January 20, 2007

A Brief History of Bohemianism (a working title)

We live in an old brick apartment building within a few blocks from the center of downtown South Bend, county seat of St. Joseph County in northcentral Indiana. When people ask where we live I tell them that our building is one block from a great stone, ivy-covered mansion built by the Studebakers, the once great car manufacturers whose plant closing in 1964 left 30,000 people jobless. South Bend hasn’t bend the same since. The mansion is now a restaurant that is known for their fancy brunch and as a destination for summertime wedding receptions. Big white tents are pitched on the lawn and when it gets dark luminaria mark the stone steps leading down to the dark grass so tipsy twenty-somethings don’t trip and sue. When I was a student I never went to this part of town at night, now I live here.

We chose to live here so we could be closer to downtown where there is a well-appointed liquor store, two coffee shops, a decent breakfast spot, a bar that doesn’t allow smoking and even a couple art galleries, but we are also on the verge of one of the worst neighborhoods in South Bend, the near west side, where just two weeks ago two men were found bludgeoned to death at the bottom of a manhole on the crest of a railroad trestle, four blocks away. Three days later two more men were found in a similar state in a manhole just one block east from the first. As it happens, the men are all known to be homeless, frequenters of the Hope Rescue Mission, a few blocks east of where their bodies were found, and the St. Peter Claver Catholic Worker House, which is one block further. Police are treating the deaths as murders, most likely connected to the underground “scrapping” business, a hustle in which scrap metal is collected and redeemed for cents on the pound at scrap yards. Although to say it’s “collected” is to overlook that fact that much of the time the metal is copper wiring, plumbing pipes and aluminum siding stripped from vacant homes; or, in the case of these four men, from old industrial sites, such as the half-demolished Stuebaker manufacturing plant. The police say that the manholes the men were found in provide access to long tunnels that run beneath the old Studebaker plant and give access to the decimated factory, tunnels that contain electrical wiring that could be cut and stripped of its copper and sold. The police cautioned that the tunnels are so long that after awhile they cease to contain breathable air, which sounded like an urban myth purposefully perpetuated in order to dissuade future scrappers. In any case, it is believed that these men were in the process of scrapping—perhaps even working together to pull off a large scrap score. An acquaintance of one of the men is quoted in the South Bend Tribune that his friend asked him if he wanted to make 250 bucks and then hinted at a plan to push something out of a window, possibility something far too heavy to carry—maybe an old piece of machinery or a boiler.

When the third and fourth bodies were found is when I began to worry about my family; specifically, I worried that Jessica would hyperbolically conclude—as she usually does—that we were all going to die at the hands of some homeless serial killer lurking in the sewers bopping people over the head; that he would find his way into the building through the drain in the laundry room. I decided not to tell her because as I parked the car at the curb outside I happened to look up and see the train underpass in the distance and realize that it was the very place that the men were found.


Shawn Anthony said...

Wow. Do be careful, Dave. It is a shame such things happen. Too, the close proximity to your house is shocking. Do keep a sharp eye.

I apologize for my lack of response to an e-mail sent earlier ... I have no excuse, save a sudden case of busy. Please send me another, as I would love to talk about your book in more detail, but have lost the e-mail address. A Good War is Hard to Find is an awesome piece of work. It is a book more people should be reading, for sure. It speaks profoundly to our time and condition.

The events so near to your home are living testimony to the words you write in that book, even if ironic ones.

Keep up the good work, Dave. I pray you and yours are kept safe.

Anonymous said...

Hi dave, my name is Sarah Corsiatto..
I would love to talk to you about life in South bend.
I grew up in South Bend and Mishawaka.
I moved to Portland Or, about 4 years ago.
i thought i would never look back, but heard about the man hole mangler, (name i gave him) and decided to look around on the internet for clues.
Came across your blog, so i thought i'd drop you a line.
My e-mail is: Wonmillion@gmail.com
please drop me a line!