An original Harvey Ball smiley face (image: The World Smiley Foundation)
Worcester: A stale lifeless zombie with empty eyes longing for fresh blood and tasty brains to create life once again and live up to the potential it had for so many years prior. Through no fault of her own, the townspeople have beaten her into this vegetative-zombie state and so she will remain until a hero can save her.
Before we move on, let’s get one thing straight, the zombie’s name is pronounced Wista. Not Wor-cess-ter, nor Wor-chester. She gets very angry when you mispronounce her name. I won’t lie, I get very angry, not her.
I didn’t always hate the city of Worcester. When I was young it was a great place to raise a family. Parks with baseball games, super tall swings, ‘petting’ zoos full of goats, sheep, peacocks, deer and buffalo that roamed in their pens, throwing bread in the pond to feed the fish, swimming in the lake or being brave enough to enter the water using the tire swing… everything you would picture the Norman Rockwell picture of America to be like. A blue collar working class city and as the second largest city in all of New England, if you didn’t know everyone, you know a person who knew that person or someone related to that person. It was that kind of place.
Probably the second most iconic smiley face (Mona Lisa being the first) was created by Harvey Ball 50+ years ago in, you guessed it, Worcester! That big yellow ball with its quirky smile has been seen world-wide hundreds of times over. While there is much controversy over this well-known smile due to copyright issues, until history wants to give me a definitive answer, I give credit to Mr. Ball.
Here is a little background on Worcester: The city is built on seven hills, they create the topography and explain why there are very few bicyclists among the traffic…their common English names are: Grafton Hill, Bell Hill, Airport Hill, Bancroft Hill, Green Hill, Pakachog Hill, and Vernon Hill. The 4-mile long lake that runs through it is Lake Quinsigamond, glacier created and home to the inter-collegiate regatta since 1859.
If you came from the Salisbury Street/west side area, you had money (period), if you lived on ‘the hill’ you were probably lower middle class, if you lived in the South end, more than likely you had a harder life but just didn’t know it at the time, and if you were from the Piedmont Street area well… it was known as the shall we say ‘working girl’ section of town, and like any good city, it knew to keep itself in check, not seeping into other neighborhoods.
Worcester is deep in history; it boasts such names as Robert Goddard, the father of modern rocketry, Abraham Lincoln who visited and spoke at City Hall (1848), it is home to Marshall “Major” Taylor who held seven world records for his professional bicycle racing and the second African-American to hold a world record in any sport (1899), and John Adams worked as a school teacher and studied law (1755-1758), just to name a few.
The Blackstone Canal (1828) allowed the city to thrive and become a huge source for textiles, shoes, and clothing and known to be the largest inlet port on the east coast. This canal also led to a huge immigration of Irish, French, and Swedish in the mid-19th century.
In 1831, Ichabod Washburn opened Washburn & Moen which shortly thereafter became the largest wire manufacturing company in the country, then brought more manufacturing to the area and became the center of machinery and wire products for companies such as Wyman-Gordon, American Steel & Wire, Morgan Construction and Norton Company. The Royal Worcester Corset Factory (1908) was the largest employer of women in the United States at the time. If you have ever had a soda made by Polar Beverages (1882), you are drinking from a fourth-generation family owned business that abuts Rte 290 and has the smiling blown up mascot Orson the Polar Bear waving to you (who has been the butt of many college pranks and stolen many times over). In the years 1949, 1960, 1965, 1981, AND 2000 Worcester was voted All-American City!
You want inventions? We gave you Candlepin bowling in 1879 (which is still a New England thing where you bowl with pins that are a different shape, the ball fits into the palm of your hand and you throw three times as compared to twice with 10-pin bowling), the first massed produced Valentine Day card in 1847, the first organized protest against the U.S. Government (known as Shays Rebellion), the first monkey wrench (1840), the first envelope folding machine (1853), the typewriter as we know it today (Charles Thurber 1940) the first pressurized space suit developed at David Clark Company who are still leaders in aerospace developers this day and age, delicious Table Talk pies of all flavors (to include the one of the best Boston crème pies you will ever taste) and more…
It is home to some of the best and brightest who attended the schools: Worcester Polytech Institute (WPI), College of the Holy Cross, Clark University (Albert Einstein spoke here), University of Massachusetts Medical School (and Nobel Prize winner for Medicine 2006), Assumption College, Worcester State College, Becker University, and Quinsigamond Community College – all right here within the city limits!
But what have you done for me lately and why all the hate? Sadly, as hard as this city tries to regain some of its grandeur, the residents will not allow it, and they are in essence, the living breathing ‘city’. More drugs, more crime, and more violence pushed the working class (the backbone and those financially sustaining the city) to move out and rely on being subsidized by state and federal monies instead.
Does she try very hard to cater to the families of young children with classes at the library and Y, yes. Does she cater to the many colleges with plenty of bars to decompress from finals, yes. She also has one amazing (and second largest in New England) art museum established in 1898, the Higgins Armory which was the one and only of its kind, (closed only recently 1931-2013) and was dedicated to arms and armor in the country, one ‘acoustical masterpiece’ known as Mechanics Hall, one theatre for plays/comedians (Hanover Theater), one civic center (the Centrum as it will always be called I don’t care who has the bigger check to rename it) but that is pretty much it.
Back in the day, the Downtown/Main Street area would ROCK; live music, DJs, dance clubs, all genres of music and all within walking distance of one another. These days, walk around on Main Street on any given night and you may find one or two places to have a drink but the distance between them and any other establishment would be cause for concern as there are blocks and blocks of abandon buildings or shops that close at 6:00 pm.
Thus the zombie is born…dutifully obeying its master, not growing, not thriving, day in and day out simply existing…and it just breaks my heart…no big yellow smiley face here Mr. Ball.
In response to today’s prompt-We Built This City: What do you love most about the city / town / place that you live in? What do you like the least about it? If you were mayor, what would be the most important problem you’d tackle? How would you tackle it?