Monday, August 8, 2011


My Spectacle Island Visit

I went out to Spectacle Island last week. I intended to be on the island for low tide but then realized that low tide occurred at 6:03 am and 6:23 pm, which wasn’t going to work with the ferry schedule. So instead I caught the first ferry out and arrived at South Beach around 10:00. It was a sunny day and the temperature was around 85 degrees so I didn’t mind going in the water in search of treasures.

As we approached the South Beach area there was a picnic table that was covered with all the finds of previous visitors. But for the moment I ignored the table and headed straight for the water knowing that the tide would be coming in. My plan was to first spend time just collecting samples. Then there was a ranger lead walk that talk about some of the history of the island. I thought this might give me some insight about my samples. The walk was followed by a trip to the visitor’s center and finally I would use the new information to decide which samples were potentially the most interesting and photograph them before returning my collection to South Beach.

The ranger took us up the north drumlin where the view was amazing. On the way back down we saw a wild turkey. The ranger said they couldn’t figure out how the turkey got there. There are deer and raccoons on the island, but she said they are able to swim to the island. The turkey on the other hand can “flutter” short distance but they’re not really capable of flight, so it’s a mystery.

I learned that from 1857 -1910 the Ward’s candle making plant and horse-rendering operation converted 2000 dead horses a year into hides, glue, hair, and oil. Thirty men were employed on the island and 13 families lived there. But by 1910 the automobile was becoming increasingly popular in the Boston area, reducing the need for horses. As a result the operation was closed.

Then from 1912-1935, Coleman’s, a grease reclamation plant ,processed Boston’s garbage. When the plant closed in 1935 the island continued to be used as a garbage dump until 1959. One gentleman on the walk remarked that he clearly remembers garbage coming out to the islands after 1959 and the ranger explained that the city of Boston had stopped sending garbage out to the island in a systemic way in 1959, but there was some occasional dumping on the island after that date.

In the visitor’s center I looked at the displays and reviewed the collection of items that were left on the information desk. These were more of the treasures from South Beach.

Now it was time to get to work on the samples I had collected. I thought about the samples I had seen in the water, on the sand, and on the picnic table. While there were plenty of things that could just be considered random pieces of trash, there also seem to be things that fit into neat categories. The number of individual items in this category seems too high for their appearance to just be random. Some of the categories I recognized right away were dishware, sea glass, construction/ demolition materials and shoe heals and soles. This in my mind indicates that for some of these categories, the pieces probably all came to the island in either a single or multiple batches.

The first item I was interested in was a small piece that I found in the water of what appeared to be a broken dish. It had a blue design on it and a distinctive border. After a minute I realized that I had seen a slightly larger piece with this same border on the picnic table. When I compared the 2, I had a match. The 2 pieces could have been from the same piece or from 2 different pieces from the same set. I thought about it a little more and realized that I had also seen this pattern on one of the pieces on the information desk back at the visitor’s center. When I went back to look at it, the pattern did indeed match but this piece was probably a serving bowl whereas the other 2 pieces were most likely plates. But they were clearly from the same set. When I turned the serving bowl over it said Buffalo China.

I searched the Internet and found Buffalo China was the name of the company that manufactured it. They have been making dishware since the early 1900’s and were bought by Oneida in 1983. Over the years they have sold their dishware mostly to commercial entities such as restaurants, hotels and the military. For a period of time they also made pottery and commemorative plates. I went searching further and found the dishes for sale on eBay. The name of the pattern is Blue Willow.

The Willow pattern can be found in a variety of colors but blue is the most common. The Blue Willow pattern has been used by several companies and came to this country from England where its use dates back to the late 1700s. The facts get a little less certain at this point. It is believed that the design was originally from China and then brought to England. It appears that in England more than one person/company started using the pattern. With this last fact came the realization that the 2 pieces I found may not have been Buffalo China. It could have been from another company that used the Blue Willow pattern. Only the bowl from the Visitor’s Center was actually marked Buffalo China.

In my blog post above is a picture of the small piece I found in the water next to the piece from the picnic table, followed by a picture of the serving bowl from the visitor’s center and finally an image of the dish for sale on ebay.

The next item in my collection appeared to be a teacup; there were no markings on it. The pattern had a blue border with tulips and seems like the kind of thing that could have been in use anywhere from the 1960s to the 1990s.

Another item in my collection appeared to be a teacup. On the bottom it was marked “Ideal CARR China Co”. CARR China also sold its wares to commercial entities such as restaurants, hotels, hospitals, clubs and the military. The company began sometime between 1916 and 1923 in West Virginia and was closed in 1952. Although the pottery industry in the US had been declining due to competition from Japan and other low wage earning countries, it’s rumored that Wheeler Bachman, the then owner of the plant, closed the business in a fit of rage when he learned that the plant employees were meeting to discuss the possibility of organizing a union.

Interestingly the Carr China Co. also sold a Blue Willow pattern. In addition to their generic dishes, in my research I found a number of pieces that were personalize by putting the name or logo of the business on them such as the Triangle Diner, Henry Ford Hospital, White Tower restaurant and Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.

In the blog above is a picture of the piece I found. It does not show the design of the Ideal pattern, so I went looking on the Internet. I found a picture of a plate and sugar bowl with the Ideal pattern but couldn’t find a teacup.

My final piece of dishware appears to be part of a white teacup with a green strip. There was no company name on this but while looking into the Buffalo China I saw some very similar patterns to this, but no exact match. It reminded me of the kind of dishes one would have seen in a coffee shop back in the 1960s. But then when looking into Carr China I found a plate on ebay that looks like it could be part of the same set.

So what I have so far is 4 pieces of, dishware, two of which came from companies that sold dishware commercially, one piece that looks like something that could have been used commercially, and one piece that I’m unsure about. My first thought was maybe a restaurant or some other entity had just thrown them out after buying a new set of dishes and they some how worked their way from the landfill to the water. But then I realized if a restaurant was getting new dishes and throwing out the old, they would have had disposed of many pieces all with the same pattern. What I saw on the beach was many pieces all with different patterns. I suppose it’s possible that enough dishes had collected over the years in the landfill that there are now a variety of patterns and only a few pieces from each pattern escape. I guess it’s also possible that the dishes didn’t all come to the island as a batch as I had thought (BE WILLING TO CHANGE YOUR THEORY) but rather each week a few pieces of dishware in the various Boston restaurants got broken by a clumsy waiter. Unlike some kinds of trash, the dishware isn’t too likely to degrade so I think it’s possible that the percent of dishes in comparison to other trash increases over the years and that it will continue to be around for many years. Although the pieces on the beach will probably continue to be broken into smaller and smaller pieces with the tides going in and out.

Moving away from the dishes to another category of trash, I selected a piece from what I’m calling the random trash collection. Although I found this plastic cigar holder in the water, the paper label was in good shape and easy to read, so I don’t think it had been there very long. The label read “Backwoods, Sweet Aromatic, All Natural Tobacco ” The bar code was 716 10 30151. I thought it possible that someone on one of the many boats that were on the water that day smoked a cigar and dropped the tube off the side of the boat deliberately.

My final artifact came from the sea glass collection. I learned from my reading of the Sea glass Journal (yes, there is such a thing, that “Sea glass found on the island may not be as conditioned as shards found on an ocean coastline since the currents and surf within Boston Harbor may not be as active. But this offers an unusual opportunity for the sea glass collector. Lots of the glass, while having smooth edges, will have retained a lot of its original shape and surface texture which leads to easier identification of their origins.”

The piece of glass I examined appeared to be the bottom of a clear bottle. On it was written the word Sheaffer’s.The Sheaffer Company was founded in 1912 and produced fountain pens. The company continues to operate today selling fine quality writing instruments. I suspect this bottle was probably from a bottle of ink that they sold. According to the Sheaffer website, Sheaffer pens were used to sign the Japanese peace treaty and the United Nations Charter. Could this piece of glass have been at these major historical events? Probably not, but it’s fun to think about it.

My trip to Spectacle Island made for a great day. Seeing all the trash reminds me that just because we throw something away doesn’t means it ceases to exist. It will need to go somewhere, so we need to keep in mind the 3-Rs, Reduce, Re-use, recycle. If any of you gets the chance I’d highly recommend visiting the island.

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