The Moving Wall is a half-scale replica of Washington DC's Vietnam Veterans Memorial. Since 1984, The Moving Wall has toured the country, having installed itself for public viewing at over a thousand towns and cities. A conservative estimate would put the number of visitors in the millions. This blog is dedicated to getting behind The Moving Wall, to revealing how it was built, and what keeps it standing and rolling along.

On The Road With The Moving Wall

I have created a separate blog for this year's visitors to The Moving Wall. On it, they can directly post observations, impressions, reflections, etc. They can also post images. This new blog has the potential to be a great journal or travelogue of The Moving Wall in 2010. Please spread the word.

Here is the blog: http://rollingwiththemovingwall2010.blogspot.com/

I am also quite honored and pleased that Sharon Denitto has requested that her excellent site, Touch The Wall, be linked here. Please visit Touch The Wall, as Sharon's hard work offers a unique perspective on The Wall, and presents information not readily found elsewhere.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Damn the NEH -- full steam ahead!

The NEH summer stipend I had applied and hoped for fell through, and so without funding my original plans for rolling with The Moving Wall this summer have, for now, stalled. The MV will be close-ish to my home in Rhode Island on two occasions this summer, once while in Lynbrook, NY (6/10-6/14) and then in West Hartford, CT (6/17-6/21), and I should be able to spend a good bit of time at each of those sites and report on them. Separated by only 125 miles, Lynbrook and West Hartford are not especially geographically distinct sites, and so I will also try to find my way out to some of the more far-flung locales the MV will visit this summer, perhaps Reno, NV (6/17-6/21. knocking out West Hartford) or Grande Ronde, OR (7/15-7/19). (Go here for the full schedule: http://www.themovingwall.org/skeds/10/index.htm)

For now, though, I am just back from a four day trip out to White Pine, MI, the winter home of The Moving Wall(s). White Pine is the most remote place I have ever been. To get a sense of just how out in the sticks White Pine is, consider this: the nearest
Wal-Mart is about 45 miles away; the next closest store is in Houghton, about 70 miles away.  As a point of reference, 20 Wal-Marts are thrumming within 30 miles of my 02885 zip code. (Their website store finder wouldn't respond to my request for a 50 mile radius.) 

The Konteka Black Bear Resort, where I lodged, has, apart from sixteen guest rooms: the town's gas pump; convenience store; largest of White Pine's two restaurants; only public saloon (there is an American Legion Hall, but it is for members only); spa (i.e., jacuzzi); tanning bed; and sole source of (legal) indoor recreation, an eight-lane bowling alley. I don't think it's a stretch to say that The Konteka is the social and economic hub of White Pine, though it's also clear from my time spent in this hub that White Pine is an awfully quiet place.

Konteka's restaurant ably handles the needs of the White Pine "yoopers"(upper peninsula-ers).
During the two breakfasts and one lunch I had, I was the sole diner in a room that could have handled a hundred (In fact, apart from Karen, who served me, and Linnie, who cooked my food to the sounds of country western radio, I suspect I was the only person in the entire inn). This wasn't always so, however. Everyone I met over these past four days remembers the White Pine Copper mine, when it was blasting away and employing 4000 hungry, thirsty men. Then, I was told, the Konteka, would serve upwards of 600 lunches a day, 400 dinners, and surely a lot more breakfasts than one. But the plant shut down about fifteen years ago, and since then the kitchen's been a whole lot quieter.

White Pine hasn't only suffered from the closing of the mine. Everyone I met over the past four days shook their head over the recent closing of the
Smurfit-Stone paper mill twenty miles away in Ontonagon. When it finally closed its doors in 2009, gone were another 150 area jobs. And soon the power plant is going to shut down, though at this point it employs but a few people to do what work no one seems to know.

Let's put it another way: when the mine was yielding up its copper veins White Pine had a year-round population of around 1500. Today, that number is 250. When times were flush, White Pine had both an elementary school and a high school; now it has neither. The Mineral River Plaza

-- the single ugliest mall to ever have blighted a landscape -- once upon a time had a market and liquor store, a hardware store, a medical clinic, a barber shop, a laundromat, and other businesses whose storefronts long ago shed any identifying markers; today, the mall is home to the post office, the bank, the tiny library (which got booted when the high school was "sold" -- more on that later), and Antonio's Italian Restaurant and Pizzaria, White Pine's other restaurant. Whatever White Pine was before, it ain't what it used to be.


Why that detour into White Pine when this blog is supposed to be about The Moving Wall? Because with so much collapsing around it, White Pine's relationship with The Moving Wall is becoming increasingly vital. In a town that has little left to hitch its culture to, and its pride, The Moving Wall's summer embarkations, and its winter hibernation, provide not only a rallying point for White
Piners but jobs for them as well.

The Black Bear, which is indigenous to the UP and White Pine, spends its hibernation sleeping. Not so with The MV. It spends its hibernation restoring, rejuvenating. It spends the winter months getting a makeover to ready it for the harsh conditions of yet another summer season of days baking in the sun, or shedding pouring skies, or standing tall to buffeting winds, not to mention the thousands of miles they spend jostling on the back of a trailer as they carted around the country.

In short, when The Moving Wall heads back to its winter home in White Pine, it isn't to remain boxed up and poised for next season's schedule. Instead, each panel is inspected, and, when necessary, refurbished. And some of what makes the refurbishing necessary is that contrary to what many of us might assume, the information on The Wall in Washington is not static but is subject to change. Names are sometimes added if a recently departed's death has been attributed to injuries sustained in battle; the status of names already there sometimes need to be updated (if a soldier's status changes from MIA (missing-in-action) to confirmed dead, the cross alongside the name indicating MIA status is changed to a diamond, indicating death confirmed). In 1982, there were 57,159 names on The Wall; to date, it's been amended over 300 times. As the National Park Services makes these changes to The Wall in DC, so too are the changes made to The Moving Wall.

So, my trip to White Pine was to see what John
Devitt, Joy (his wife and traveling partner),

and the rest of the White Pine crew do to get The Wall ready to hit the road come summer, and to snoop around the shop to get the fullest sense of The MV's 26-year run that I could. What I found, in addition to that run, is the story of White Pine itself, and to tell the story of one is, today, to tell the story of the other. That is what I will be looking to do in the posts ahead.

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