•COMING IN SEPTEMBER, 2015•

Brass Valley: The Fall of an American Industry

by Emery Roth

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Accounting



PHOTOGRAPHER'S JOURNAL: In the WWI shed, the extrusion crew works to right the push-die behind the block, and copper tubes soak in vats of blue acid, and buckets of scrap sail downstream on the hooks of cranes. Everyone there wears ear plugs, but up the dark back stairs of the older, brick factory, where the floors are gritty, only creaky risers and my shuffling footsteps bestir the quiet.

On the abandoned second floor, the filtered, gray window-light is a pall over reality which lives in the shadows. I strain to hear the source of distant buzzing, perhaps the complaint of an errant electrical circuit, back from the dead. Further up, beyond the broken clock with the crippled fingers, the world is increasingly pigeon-haunted. It's best to creep when traversing time. Up there, other than pigeons, there's only drafts, drips, and the creaks of age; then on the third floor, a flash, the flapping of black wings flying at light.

It is like crossing to the other side. The sawtooth rooftop beyond the windows rouses shadows in offices where clerks with fine hands kept accounts for Holmes, Booth, & Haydens. Dutifully they enter into ledgers the sales of planished, copper-silver photographic plates that will capture the daguerreotype faces of a generation (HB&H were the first to make them). Their flowing letters also record production and sales of crisp, brass oil burners whose delicate gears, touched by countless fingertips, control the glow of lamps round the world (Hiram W. Hayden held more than 30 oil lamp patents). And later, when fine and flowing were obsolete, typewriters spit orders faster and stayed abreast of new products and new demands. One can almost see the shadows of clerks flicker in the broken, glass cubicles of some subsequent reform to achieve new, strategic efficiencies, and you can hear their whispers in the rustling of feathers and occasional murmurs, clucks and coos. A rusted Addressograph stands amid a scattered heap of stamped address plates spilled from file drawers, the forgotten contact list of Anaconda Copper, never to be re-alphabetized.