Dayton had the Wright Brothers, Seattle has Boeing (sort of), Houston has Mission Control, Florida has Cape Canaveral, and Roswell, New Mexico has whatever it is that Roswell has. In Berkeley, we have a lovely sampler of quirky material culture celebrating flight, be it airplane, rocket ship, or space ship.
Truth be known, Berkeley did have one aviation event that briefly put us on the map, the May 23, 1908 crash of the Morrell Airship, a ginormous dirigible.
As horrific as the accident looks, and despite the fact that the airship was 300 feet in the air, all 16 passengers survived the crash.
But let’s forget about that unfortunate incident and get down to cases – quirky material culture. Theme song? Starting with the airplane, for me the choice for our theme song is obvious, although goodness knows there are a lot of songs out there. If only I knew somebody who kind of compulsively collects things. Ha! I do. Gabby has a minor collection of flight-related record albums. Are you interested in them?
Back to our theme song:
Now for our airplanes:
If we allow ourselves a brief excursion to Emeryville, we can add Tyler Hoare’s Red Baron sculpture:
Back in Berkeley, hands down our best airplane is at Gate 13:
Before leaving airplanes and moving to rockets, if we do a little time travel we can find another airplane in Berkeley’s past, one that contributed mightily to our character as a city, our genius loci, our sense of place at the time:
The Jefferson Airplane played Berkeley with some regularity:
Greek Theatre, University of California: 7-4-66, 5-6-67, 9-21-89, 9-22-89
Harmon Gymnasium, University of California: 10-24-65, 10-30-65, 3-25-66, 4-16-66, 10-30-66
New Orleans House: 3-4-70
Pauley Ballroom, University of California: 7-3-66
Moving from airplanes to rockets, we have a few. Since we were just back in the 1960s and early 1970s with the Jefferson Airplane, let’s recognize the Red Rockets, the name taken by an amorphous group of young teenagers for whom Telegraph Avenue was home.
Back in the present, and back with rockets as in “A cylindrical projectile that can be propelled to a considerable height or distance by the combustion of its contents and the backward ejection of waste gases, usually giving a burst of light and used for signalling, in maritime rescue, for entertainment, and as a weapon; spec. a firework of this form, typically giving a brilliant visual display at the apex of its ascent” (thanks OED, which dates the term to 1566). We have a few.
And then Space: the final frontier. These are the voyages of the starship Enterprise. Its five-year mission: to explore strange new worlds, to seek out new life and new civilizations, to boldly go where no man has gone before.
First, let’s boldly go (and please, no more split infinitives) back in time, when at Telegraph and Haste the One World Family led by Gallactic Messenger Michael Allen ran a restaurant and gave us this mural where the People’s History of Telegraph Avenue is now found:
That, my friends, is a spaceship. And here, check out Michael Allen’s sweatshirt:
In the present day, the here and now, we have several representations of spacecraft in our yards:
And best of all, VERY BEST OF ALL, this:
The bumper sticker on the spacecraft says “Berkeley or Bust.” You can’t really get a sense of the size of this – it is pretty substantial – and so I asked my daughter Charlotte and her BFF Jesse to stand next to it.
You still don’t get a great sense of the size – you’d have to step into the garden which is against Quirky Berkeley protocols. But when I showed the photo to the girls, they were Highly amused by the juxtaposition of Charlotte’s hand and the spaceman’s junk.
I showed all of these photos to my friend. He told me a long, complicated, and confusing story about a 1918 Jenny stamp that he once owned but got ripped off. I never know whether to believe these stories. I wonder.
He mused about our childhoods, about the perceptions of space. I remember standing in my backyard with my parents in Lincoln, Massachusetts, in October 1957 at night and seeing Sputnik orbit past us. At least I think I do. My friend has a special place in his hear for the purple people eater –
I never cared for that song. It was only of the earliest teenage songs that I was aware of, that and “Witch Doctor.” My friend can go on and on about space and our conceptions and perceptions and depictions of space. Today he was reading everything he could about “My Favorite Martian.”
Leaving aside the cultural aspects, he was curious about the actors’ feelings. “What did Ray Walston think about this? What do you think he thought?” Well, I said that I figure he thought it was a good-paying job. What, on the other hand, did my friend think of our material culture of flight?