There were at least two major fires in my hometown of Marietta during the past 2-3 days, and all of my Facebook friends from Marietta posted details and pictures, as well as links to local newspapers and WTAP-TV, the station in nearby Parkersburg.
Checking Google Maps, I see that one of the destroyed buildings (190 Front St.) had formerly housed Sound Solutions, a stereo and audio equipment store. In the late ’70s and early ’80s, it was on my newspaper route, and I often hung out there. Seeing all the equipment on sale made me feel like the diabetic kid looking in the candy store window, since at that time I was thankful to have a nondescript stereo with AM/FM receiver from Sears.
The last time I crossed its threshold must have been in the late 1980s, when I was back in Marietta for a visit. It housed a Goodwill store at that time, and I went in and bought some clothes and some books. The building housed Marietta Wine Cellars until yesterday. The fire also destroyed the adjacent business, Riverside Artists’ Gallery.
My Marietta history knowledge is a little foggy, but I believe this structure had originally been the St. Cloud Hotel. While on my paper route, a guy from Sound Solutions asked me to go up into the building’s attic to help him find something, and we found guest registers, handbills, cash journals and ledgers, and Marietta newspapers dating from the early 1900s.
My parents never had to lecture me about playing with matches, and I never understood the fascination that some of my peers had with fire. My first memory of a fire was when I was five or six, when Marietta College’s bookstore was torched. My dad took me there often as a preschooler when he was buying books or office supplies, and the manager often let me play with the adding machine at the counter. The building was a ramshackle wooden structure that was scheduled to be razed once the new bookstore was finished, and the College never searched all that vigorously for the arsonist.
Dad and I visited the ruins of the building a day or so later. All I remember were the burned books scattered all over the ground, and the scorched lumber and window frames everywhere.
While typing the above paragraphs about Sound Solutions, I had an epiphany of sorts. This is the second time that a site (directly or indirectly) related to this business has been destroyed by fire. In 1970, the Pinkerton Hotel, near the corner of Second and Putnam Sts. in Marietta, was destroyed. I’m not sure what the cause was–I think it was defective wiring. Once the destroyed stories of the building were removed, and the street level was structurally safe, Vere-Smith Audio opened in that storefront. Two or three employees left Vere-Smith and formed Sound Solutions.
Fires can bring out the best and the worst in people. In my "lazy bum" year of living at home (between graduating from high school and moving to Boston), I was riding to Athens one morning with a friend who lived in Marietta and worked in Athens three days a week. We were just coming to where the skyline was coming into view, and there was a thick, single column of smoke rising lazily from the direction of Uptown.
My friend dropped me near College Gate and I went to Court St. to investigate. As it turned out, Belks Department Store had burned the previous night, and it was still smoldering. The store had been closed at the time, so there were no casualties. It was across the street from the C.I., one of the most crowded meat-market bars on campus, and the fire had been a spectator sport that kept many people mesmerized long after the bar had closed for the night.
While talking to people who had been watching the fire all night, I heard quite a few stories, and one of them (quite possibly aprocryphal) will stay with me until the day I die. A stereo store, Paul and Tony’s, was next door to Belks at that time. When the fire erupted, no one knew whether their common wall would collapse or not. Someone called an employee at Paul and Tony’s, and he ran over to the store in his pajamas and bathrobe and unlocked the place. (I seem to remember Paul and Tony’s specialized in high-end equipment, like Fisher, Kenwood, and Bose.) He had someone unlock a storage locker he had further down Court St., and then he began randomly handing components to people on the street, saying, "Go run this to my friend at such-and-such a place," and he kept doing this until either everything was out of the store or until the blaze was enough under control that he knew his store would not be endangered. Whether he knew the person or not, or whether they were drunk or sober, he handed them equipment and told them where to take it. When he did inventory: Everything present and accounted for. One turntable was a little banged up because the person carrying it dropped it, but other than that, everything was there.
IN OTHER NEWS: I went to Mount Carmel West Hospital on Monday and had a chest X ray, to see if we can determine the cause of this cough, which only seems to be worsening, no matter how much Cipro or Hydromet I throw at it. I was not wild about using codeine to combat it, because I remember growing a little too fond of it after my vasectomy, but it’s had no effect at all. I have one refill for the Hydromet, but I’m not going to waste $10 on a medication that is not helping me.