The Baystate Objectivist

The Baystate Objectivist

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Bridge Street Cemetery

A first visit.

It was cold this morning, but that did not deter me from seeking out the entrance to the Bridge Street Cemetery in Northampton. I said seeking because it isn't at all clear how to get into it from the road. You have to follow alongside the cemetery fence through this thickly settled neighborhood.

On the way I spotted this pheasant stenciled on a mailbox.

At the end of the street you finally reach the entranceway. Careful, or you might drive right past it.

The cemetery is under the care of the City of Northampton, which just as you go in lists all the rules it wants you to follow. Click the photo if you want to read them.

I realized that the cemetery is actually considerably larger than it appears from the outside, with long roads and paths.

Some people think cemeteries are creepy. I know what they mean, I've had a few spooky moments in them myself. But I'm a historian, however amateurishly, and therefore my curiosity about the past has always overcome any trepidations I might have about the restlessness of the dearly departed. For a lot people from the past, their tombstone is the only permanent record they leave behind. It is the only thing remaining when the records are buried in dust or lost altogether. Their stone stands in the world when they no longer do, and hint of what used to be and how it was. I'm intrigued by the mysteries they pose.

Most gravestones reflect primarily a family's grief, but not always. This stone was erected by the whole City of Northampton, to honor those who died in the Civil War.

In front of the Civil War memorial are two small pedestals with real cannon balls on them. Here's one.

Some people make monuments to themselves, especially rich people, who may not be able to take it with them, but they can use their gravestone to tell you they once had it! As if that makes them any less dead than the pauper in the unmarked grave a few rows over.

At least some of the larger ones are artistic, such as the beautiful white cross on this grave.

I had barely explored the area around the entrance when my fingers got cold. It occurred to me that exploring this cemetery was a bigger adventure than I'd thought and perhaps better explored in warmer weather.

So be it. I'll wait a few months, when the sun is high, and then I'll wander all these graveyard lanes and byways, compelling Bridge Street Cemetery to unveil its secrets.

I've never liked the way the Springfield Newspapers have those little news capsules at the bottom of their front page, but I could never put my finger on exactly what it was I didn't like about it. Jeff Jarvis finally did it for me in his critique of a similar move by The New York Times.

I won’t mince words: I hate the new and expanded news summary The New York Times introduced today on pages 2 and 3. It’s inefficient, wasteful, and ultimately insulting.

It’s not hard to see where this comes from. I’ve sat in no end of whither-newspaper meetings in companies and conferences in which the alleged shortened attention span of the American public is lamented. This is the most common cure. I’m sure the updated rationale includes blaming the internet: People read short things on the screen so they must want it in print.

But this is nothing new. In 1976, I was assigned — kicking and screaming — to be one of two editors to create the same news summary on the back page of the first section of the Chicago Tribune. Daily Briefing, it was called. Editors have tried putting them on the front page, on page 2, on the back page, everywhere. Never works. The Tribune’s feature died (after I quit in frustration and went to the San Francisco Examiner).

The problem with The Times’ latest effort is first that it’s inefficient and inappropriate to the form. They forget one of the still-great advantages of the interface of the paper: As I browse, I see every story and I get to decide then and there how deep to dive in: the headline or caption may tell me enough, the lede may, the first five grafs may. The beauty is that it’s all right there. If instead, I see a story of interest on The Times’ new page 2, I have to go shuffling through the paper to find it and keep reading.

The second problem, I think, is that it’s wasteful. As newspapers lose space and staff, I think they should be using both precious assets to go deeper, not shallower.

Third, I do not think it’s true that our attention spans have shorted. Our choices have increased. And that means that our selectivity is greater. So we may give shorter attention to the stories newspapers fed us when they controlled our media choice. Now they don’t and we read what we want to. Indeed, we can dig deeper into a topic of interest and follow it longer. In that sense, our attention spans are longer when and where it matters to us.

Are you listening, Springfield Newspapers?


Mary E.Carey said...

Glad you posted that analysis by Jarvis. I was amazed at what a waste of space it is.

Mike Dobbs said...

Do the Springfield Newspapers listen? Hah!

Greg said...


Glad to hear I'm not the only one who positively cringes at that practice.

With space at such a premium, giving up 5 of the available 18 vertical inches on the front page means either a) restricting the creativity of that layout or b) pushing at least one additional story inside.

And, I've found, if none of the capsules really grabs my interest, I'm a little less inclined to flip through the rest of the paper.


- Greg

Bill Sweet said...

I have to agree. I always found those things a terrible waste of space. Most people skim the newspaper anyway, and the paper's so thin these days, it really doesn't take much time at all to search through the increasingly shorter stories. Another desperate marketing effort, wasting the time of their already understaffed and overtaxed newsroom. The "idea men" need to be shown the door.