Exploring the ruins of a scientific playground

22 Mar

Standing astride the river, with one foot on the plains of Vidalia, Louisiana, and the other on the bluffs of Natchez, Mississippi, my mind was tricked into believing that this could have been a playground and not a complex hydraulic model, an operable toy replete with countless options to alter a small, contained (and fake) universe. — Kristi Dykema Cherame

There’s a fascinating story in today’s Design Observer describing the history of a deserted hydraulic model of the Mississippi River system. The model, located in Clinton, Mississippi, was started  in 1943, using prisoners of war (this was during WWII) to begin the first stages of construction. By the 1990s, advances in computer modeling made the physical model obsolete, and the project was abandoned.

I’ve always found twentieth-century ruins especially spooky and disquieting: a site called Opacity has done an especially good job over the last few years documenting abandoned hospitals, factories, and jails in the US and abroad.

Today, the project is slowly being taken back by the earth. “What remains, concealed by invasive vegetative overgrowth, is the model,” writes Cherame. “And it is surprisingly intact and fairly evenly weathered after two decades of abandonment. The overgrowth has created a protective barrier of holly and poison ivy, making it nearly impossible to see from the park and protecting it from misuse.”

But it was once a tourist attraction. And what fun! Below, a vintage postcard:


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