The town where I grew up was doomed. It became a falling behemoth even before I understood that the world around me was crumbling beneath my feet, and a once prosperous town had faded into ignonimy, becoming known more as a haven for welfare slackers and a hotbed of heroin activity than as an industrial powerhouse.
I grew up amidst the towering smoke stacks, the perpetually clanging, moving factories, and with the constant sounds of the trains- the rhythmic clack-clack, the dull roar of the diesel engines, and the mournful braying of the whistles. The trains were the unwitting instruments playing the muted symphony of the night, coming from anywhere, going to nowhere- everywhere and nowhere all at the same time- as if in defiance of the laws of time and space.
When I was very young the air was dirty. On the rare days where there was no wind, a thick stagnant gray haze hung in the air like a pall. There was a pervasive slimy, smoky film that coated windows and adhered to curtains and windowsills should one dare to open the windows. Should the wind blow from the southwest, (which happens often in summer) one would get a foul whiff of the various odors of rendering and not-so-fresh flesh emanating from the Ken-L-Ration dog food factory. (Believe it or not, Ken-L-Ration was a subsidiary of Quaker Oats.)
This was an imposing, windowless facility where horses were once slaughtered, transformed into a pasty, meaty muck, (hooves, ears, and shall we say, all the “not fit for human consumption” bits included) and packed into tin cans with bright, colorful labels that reassured dog owners that this horse paste was 100% Balanced Nutrition for Your Dog!
Eh, so it’s canned dog food.
At least they were straight about what was in it.
You don’t want to know what a “by-product” is. Suffice to say that a “meat by-product” in the 1950s could be anything from roadkill, to dead livestock, to lips and assholes.
Then there was the Marion Power Shovel, whose last great hurrah was building the crawler that moved the space shuttle. In its heyday the Power Shovel complex cut a five-mile long stretch along the west end of town. Now most of the buildings have been demolished. A few have been repurposed as either warehouses or trucking depots. The skeletons of the massive outdoor cranes that once moved parts of power shovels and other large machines down the assembly line still stand as silent witnesses to a time when the survival of the free world hinged upon the industrial might of America. Now the existence of either the “free world” or the “might of America” is decaying and becoming more and more a distant memory, just like those abandoned factories.
By 1980, the industrial machine that had functioned so mightily- for a hundred years- collapsed upon itself.
I can name a plethora of reasons why half the population was gone in four years, with three-quarters of the factories either having gone out of business entirely, relocating to the southern right-to-work states, or relocating to foreign countries. I can say the fall was brought on by union greed, or excessive taxation and regulation, or the changes in the world economy, or the cost of energy, but to be honest it wasn’t any one factor that led to the fall, but the perfect storm that brewed when all of the above converged.
Now my home town is little more than a crumbling, dead monument to the industrial revolution, long since passed by, and the only constant is the sound of the trains, still everywhere and nowhere at the same time.
That, and it was once the home of President Harding. Harding is much maligned among many historians. He was a tomcat, he had shady friends, and for a time he was a card carrying member of the Ku Klux Klan. But, to his credit, he did keep the budget balanced, and he was well-liked during his term of office. He was so well-liked right after he died that school kids saved up their pennies and dimes and people raised money to build him a memorial that is only slightly less opulent than the Washington, Lincoln and Jefferson monuments.
The Harding Memorial is rather expansive, and very cool to visit- if you can find it. It’s on Ohio 423, on the south side of town, on the east side of the road.