Featured Landscape Coin Drops for 2004

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November, 2004

Science Museum of Minnesota, Collector's Corner, St. Paul, Minnesota, November 9, 2004 <


Finally something from the lighter side of life, to contrast with the many sites of memorial that have recently been featured here. In an out-of-the-way room of the great Science Museum of Minnesota is a corner with several brightly lit glass display cases. The cases are packed with artifacts: animal skulls, flints, fish vertebrae, agates, and the shucked skin of a snake that has finished its moult. The Collector's Corner provides a place where anyone can trade something they've found for another artifact.

We found that this spot transforms the conventional function of a museum. It is fully interactive without any mechanical or moving parts, and the variety of its cabinet contents is endless. It promises the glittering prospect of choosing and claiming a prize artifact to take home by bringing in an item for trade. Its structure inspires, nay, compels exploration and treasure hunting. The kind and generous lady who staffed the Corner was well prepared to explain to children of all ages why feathers are not allowed, and otherwise to explain and interpret peoples' findings for them.

The most fascinating part of the Collector's Corner was the cabinet where ersatz food dishes had been crafted and displayed from rock and mineral samples that had been brought in. These samples were absurd, clever, and uncannily realistic.

Our only beef with the Collector's Corner was that when we donated a landscape coin, we were told that it was ineligible for trade because it was man-made. Is a brass coin more man-made than a glass bead (of which the Corner had plenty)? In spite of this small disappointment, the Collector's Corner was a highlight of our recent trip to Minnesota. This was the first coin ever "dropped" in Minnesota.

We handed the coin to the kind staff member who explained and introduced the Corner to us. ---MSP

September, 2004

Stonehenge Memorial, Klickitat County, Washington, September 3, 2004


In Washington State, on the banks of the Columbia River, stands a full scale replica of Stonehenge. This amazing piece of outdoor artwork stands visible for miles around: its textured concrete obelisks a powerful evocation of an Anglian prehistory that few of its visitors are likely to know very much about.

But this Stonehenge does not tell the date, or the seasons, or the position of the sun and other stars relative to earth. It was not built by the Pilts of Salisbury Plain, nor by members of the Klickitat, Wasco, or Wishram bands of Native Americans who are native to the gorge region. It was built between 1918 and 1929 by Samuel Hill, the wealthy Quaker pacifist of the early 20th Century who lived in Klickitat County and did his best to bring his county to international stature. Hill's other projects include extensive road building in the area, and the Maryhill Museum that stands three miles west of Stonehenge.

Hill was an anti-war activist who was deeply moved by a visit to the original Stonehenge in England during World War I. At the time, historians believed that Stonehenge was a site where prehistoric peoples performed human sacrifice. Mortified by this now-debunked belief, Hill drew a link between the war that was current at the time, and the practice of human sacrifice. He began building his Stonehenge replica in 1918, and dedicated it that year to the local lives lost in the war. It was finished in 1929.

We tossed the coin onto the top lintel at the southernmost reach of the perimeter. ---MSP

August, 2004

Pre's Rock memorial for Steve Prefontaine, Eugene, Oregon, August 26.


In Eugene, Oregon, no one else besides Steve Prefontaine did as much, in as little time, to define the city's sense of place. Eugene was on its way to being "Track Town USA" even before Pre came there to run from Coos Bay in 1969. Then Pre's Olympic-caliber running brought a charisma and a magnitude of fame to Eugene's track community that it still carries, twenty-nine years later. Eugene's landscape is shaped by Pre's Trail, the carefully developed jogging path named for him that wends through town. And Eugene's history has been shaped by the legacy of track and field excellence that Pre left behind.

As a very young person, I ran on the same track as Pre. The University of Oregon's track and field club hosted kiddie all-comer meets for local children ages three and up, to get them interested in running. I am the daughter of a U of O track team member, and I ran. My dad had run Steeplechase before the war; after the war he and I went to the U of O's Hayward field to see Pre on the track. When Pre died in a car crash in 1975, at the age of 24, it was a punch in the solar plexus to the whole city.

In post-Pre years, Eugene has seen an array of Olympic-class athletes run through its streets: Alberto Salazar and Mary Decker Slaney are two of the most famous. Around town, Pre is widely memorialized. There is the running trail that bears his name, and drinks and sandwiches at local eateries are named after him. Every year the Oregon Track Club hosts its commemorative Prefontaine Classic run.

In the world beyond Eugene, Nike shoes invoke Pre's legacy as they walk the earth by the billions. Nikes were originally developed in Eugene in the early 1970s, partly to help Pre run faster. Nike is no longer a local company made good. They are a once-local company made bad by notoriously horrible labor and manufacturing policies.

The Landscape Coin project regularly explores how sites of tragedy are commemorated, and the range in style and substance of Pre's memorials is notable. The formal commemorative plaque for Pre in his home town of Coos Bay, Oregon, is centrally located in public space downtown. It is in the classic plaque-on-a-boulder style, and features a relief of his face, his dates of birth and death, and a list of his record-setting races. But in Eugene, where he became famous and died, his memorial is quite different. It is located at the exact site of his death, and it is is passionately adorned. The site of mourning is the rock itself where his car flipped. At the base of the rock, a cemetery-style headstone bearing his image has been installed. The headstone is well crafted, but informal: it doesn't give his dates of birth or death, or even his full name, just his face and an inspiring message of hope. All around the headstone are piled armloads and armloads of mementos and offerings: track medals, uniforms, many pairs of running shoes, flowers, race numbers, student ID cards. On the rock face above the headstone, a small relief figurine of Pre in motion has been carefully carved out.

This memorial has the feel of having been created out of peoples' direct experiences of grief and admiration, and it is more like the other roadside shrines that adorn America's car crash sites than it is like a conventional memorial for a public figure. It is a world apart from the very official commemoration in Coos Bay. Yet with its engraved headstone, and its rock carving, it is impresses the observer as being both public and permanent, unlike ordinary roadside memorials for private individuals. It therefore represents a hybrid of several usually distinct forms of commemoration: site-based, public-oriented, and fan-adorned. One newspaper article about the memorial claims that only Jim Morrison's grave in Paris is as heavily adorned by grieving fans.

The coin was left tucked into the arm of the relief figurine of Pre. In the middle photo above, the figurine is visible above the number "15" stuck to the rock face. The photo on the right is a close-up of the figurine with its coin. ---MSP

June, 2004

Haymarket Riot site, Chicago, Illinois: June 4, 2004

On May 4, 1886, the Chicago Police attempted to surround and disperse a peaceful assembly of worker activists. The attempt resulted in a violent conclusion that has reverberated throughout activist communities ever since. Do you enjoy an eight hour workday? Before 1886 the concept of workdays that allowed people time to breathe, eat, sleep, and pursue their own life after work was a radical, incendiary thought. On May 1 of that year, laborers nationwide held coordinated strikes to demand an eight-hour day. The people who met at Haymarket Square in Chicago on May 4 to discuss workers' rights were surrounded by police, and someone threw a bomb into the police force cluster. The police fired back, and unknown numbers of activists and one policeman were killed. The bomb-thrower was never identified. Following the riot there were two days of nationwide unrest as tensions between labor organizers and police forces across the country came to a head.

Against widespread outrage, eight activists (George Engel, Samuel Fielden, Adolph Fischer, Louis Lingg, Oscar Neebe, Albert Parsons, Michael Schwab, and August Spies) were tried for the murder of policeman Mathias J. Degan. Engel, Fischer, Parsons and Spies were executed on November 11, 1887; Lingg had committed suicide in jail the day before. The funeral procession of the executed men, and Lingg, was attended by hundreds of thousands of people. The failure of an international campaign for clemency was both devastating and energizing to labor activists worldwide, and eventually the eight-hour day became law.

"Haymarket" has entered into contemporary English as a shorthand term used to connote violent harassment of political activists. I visited the Haymarket spot to connect these associations with a place, and to look at the way the landscape has changed there. There is no square near the Haymarket plaque; the neighborhood has been substantially revised in the past 125 years. It is now a mixed office, light industrial, and urban residential quarter, a comfortable walk from the glassy superstructures of downtown Chicago.

On August 16, 2004, a New York Times article titled FBI Tracks Potential GOP Protesters described the FBI's pre-emptive home and office visits to potential activists and agitators in anticipation of the upcoming Republican National Convention in New York: It can still happen. And while you're appreciating your eight-hour day, don't forget to thank the labor movement for the weekend, too. Some good web references on the Haymarket tragedy are: The Chicago Historical Society's Haymarket Website, and The Dramas of Haymarket created by Northwestern University in cooperation with the CHS. --MSP

May, 2004

The Firecat, Bangkok Thailand


The Firecat is probably the most notorious sex bar in Thailand, certainly one of the oldest, dating from the Viet Nam years. It's famous for shows: balloons, razor blades, champagne bottles, bananas. It's also a famous clip joint, where you always have to count your change, and where three big guys surround you as you're paying your bill. The first day I set foot in Bangkok I ended up here, and ended up making some friends. Oe was a funny girl from Lopburi, their top performer. Everything was funny to her, the customers, the act, the club. Lots of old-fashioned Thai sanuk (fun). Yuy was an older ladyboy, the person who guided you to your table. I would always tip Yuy 200 baht every time I walked in, said "take care me, mama" (Yuy was older), and she'd give me a big kiss, and made sure NO ONE ripped me off. The mamasan was young and pretty, probably not much over 30. Beautiful smile, and the girls loved her (I dated more than one of them.) In the carnival of life, Firecat was one of the bigger stops. Something to offend virtually anyone who takes easy offense, but it was its own world with its own rules, and all inside-out, where the bad guys turn out to be good, the good guys sometimes not so (just ask about "Cheap Charlies")....

In early May the prodigal traveller returned, wanting to lay a kiss on Yuy, give her 200 baht, feel at home in a way I can never in San Jose. Pen, Oe's best pal at the Cat, grabs me as soon as I walk in the door, sets me down, grabs a beer for both of us. "Oe go back to Lopburi," she tells me. "Finish." Oe had a child, I wish her well, and hope she saved her money. "Mamasan die, HIV. Same-same Yuy, very sick, go home Si Saket." The see-saw world of the Firecat has just hit bottom, the carousel has spun wildly out of control, spinning its riders off through the centrifugal forces of fate. At the Firecat for five years now, Pen's one of the last riders left.

Some people would consider these friendships vacuous, without the time invested to be called deep; that's what the outsiders always think, and that's why, we think, they're never inside. I lost two people this week who were close to my heart, and who I often thought, of, and talked about. Just outside of the entrance to the Firecat, there's a "jao tee," a small Buddhist altar that offers some degree of protection to the place. Many of the girls give it a bow and a "wai" on the way in. I'm not Buddhist, but I want to "tam boon" (make merit) for the mamasan, and for Yuy, who will soon be travelling to meet her. Sometimes, the world doesn't care very much for these girls, or for people like Yuy. Each one is some mother's child, who grew up into her own destiny, making her own decisions, choosing her friends and her way of life. Mamasan, Yuy, and Oe are, and were brave people, with good hearts, and will have made enough merit in this life to bring something important into the next one. Somewhat selfishly, I hope they remember me the way I remember them.

I placed a coin at the jao tee, and photographed the jao tee. It's there for all the girls who still work at Firecat, and for the ghosts that, I'm sure, return every night to do a show, work a shift, "drink customer, go customer." Their world is as precious to them, and as honorable, as anyone's. That these ghosts return isn't, I think, penance, purgatory, or condemnation, concepts more western than eastern. Where they are now could be "mai-sanuk" --- no fun --- and they float up the stairs, and hover over the stage and the customers, vicariously drinking, laughing, pointing, to return to their past, say hello to old friends, and meet their future colleagues. --Khun Jet

April, 2004 (second April drop)

Art Car Named "Lowery's Lair," Houston, Texas, April 15, 2004.


Three cheers for art cars! We greatly admire creative people who turn their cars into personal three dimensional mobile landscape installations. Every car on the road is a potential template available for fantastic individuation. Art cars are playful rebukes to the widely accepted dullness of our personal transit devices. We have coined many, many art cars over the years, but rarely when we had a digital camera dangling from our wrists to enable entertaining documentation.

Lowery's Lair depicts a copper dragon climbing a car-shaped pile of lava. We encountered Lowery's Lair in an industrial section of Houston while driving back from our tour of the Houston Ship Channel (a regrettably un-coinable landscape, which everyone visiting Houston should see). It was parked adjacent to a scrap iron yard, which had been decorated by its workers as a colorful scrap iron theme picnic site. We coined the scrap iron yard, and asked its curators whether they were responsible for Lowery's Lair, but they said the conjunction was accidental. We were left with the impression that artistic reinterpretation of underappreciated landscapes was alive and kicking all around the more gravelly sections of Houston.

As it turns out, this particular art car was the school project of students at Lowery Elementary in Houston. The students entered their car in Art Car Weekend in Berkeley, California, in 2002, and won Third Place (Youth). The photo from that parade is a bit better than the ones we took.

This year's Art Car Fest in Berkeley, California is coming up in September. It is co-produced by filmmaker and art car advocate Harrod Blank, whose documentaries Wild Wheels and Driving the Dream have popularized art cars and inspired art car creators everywhere. --MSP Back to the main page of the Landscape Coin project.

April, 2004 (first April drop)

Hydrogen Fuel Cell, Golden Gate National Recreation Area.

The growing debate over the viability of hydrogen fuel cell technology often seems to have a very distant referent. How many of us have ever actually seen a hydrogen car? Rumors about them jump at us from the glossy pages of international newspapers and magazines. But tax dollars to support a proposed hydrogen fuel corridor in California are even more remote than the technology itself.

So imagine our amazement to find a very real, very ordinary, and very dusty hydrogen fuel cell unit, housed in a small wood-frame structure, right in the heart of a federal coastal landscape! It was a full mile from the nearest public road. We found it two hundred feet inland from the small beach of Kirby Cove Campground, behind the remains of a coastal defense fortification and one-half mile west of the Golden Gate Bridge. It caught our attention with its rooftop photovoltaic panel display. On the front of the structure an explanatory sign is mounted reading:

"When NPS needed to provide reliable, remote power... they teamed with NREL to use new technology -- clean, silent power from a fuel cell/solar hybrid power station...". The remainder of the sign showed diagrams of a fuel cell, brief explanations of fuel cell theory, and diagrams of photovoltaic effect. (We regret that we didn't have our camera with us.)

The coin was placed atop the metal housing of the power meter that showed electriciy production, just to the right of the explanatory sign. At the time of our visit, the power meter was still and the hydrogen canister holders were empty. --RP & MSP Back to the main page of the Landscape Coin project.

January, 2004

Prime Meridian at Zero Degrees Longitude, Greenwich, England.


Some coin drops recognize places where cultural or historical significance is regional, local, or even personal. Others mark locations that have played a role in world history or landscape development on a broad scale. Such was the coin drop on the afternoon of January 18, 2004, on the Prime Meridian at zero degrees longitude, at the Royal Observatory, Greenwich, near London, England.

In October 1883, delegates from 25 countries met in Washington, D.C. for the Intenational Meridian Conference. Prior to this conference, there had been no agreement on a zero point of earth's coordinates of latitude and longitude, and many meridians were in use. The delegates agreed that a single world meridian should be established and defined zero degrees of longitude as the meridian running from North to South Poles and passing through "the principal Transit Instrument at the Observatory at Greenwich." All other lines of longitude were to be measured from this line, including the line at 180 degrees longitude, precisely opposite zero longitude, known as the International Date Line. The delegates further agreed on the "universal day," that the day began at midnight, and that it lasted 24 hours.

The choice of the Greenwich Observatory as the point of origin for the world's system of navigational coordinates was not accidental. It recognized the supremacy of the British Empire and of Great Britain as the naval and maritime leader of the world. The Observatory itself had been founded by King Charles II in 1675, and by the time of its removal to Cambridge in 1998 was Britain's oldest scientific institution. The Greenwich building is now a museum and tourist attraction and was heavily promoted as a destination during the widely celebrated Millennium year of 2000, in part because the third millennium of the Christian era was said to begin at zero degrees latitude.

On the occasion of my visit, the patio in front of the Observatory building was crowded with visitors speaking many different languages. The predominantly young crowd jostled for photo-op positions along the Plexiglas-encased line of red LEDs that follow the Prime Meridian. I placed a coin in the crack at the end of the patio opposite from the observatory wall, almost precisely at 0 degrees longitude, at 1409 hours Greenwich Mean Time. --RP Back to the main page of the Landscape Coin project.

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