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This Ol' House

Cabbages and Kings

By Robert H. Neuman

"Tear it down. Cut the gab," cried an impatient Cambridge citizen behind us, one of the large crowd that assembled at Rogers Block, behind M.I.T., yesterday afternoon to witness the symbolic destruction of the first slum building of the urban renewal program.

Hizzoner, the Mayor, continued. ". . .and my ninth point, encourage neighborhood awareness. . .the disgraceful condition of. . .taxpayers' money. . .all cooperation. . .this historic moment. . . all pull together . . . and I conclude (crowd cheers). . .thank you."

(Loud huzzas) "Let's go. Tear it down. I'm starved." The Annunciator Drum and Bugle Corps laced into and out of "The Stars and Stripes Forever," dogs growled, flashbulbs popped. In a thick cloud of cigar fumes, the Council stood on the curb, anxiously awaiting the historic moment. Hizzoner, Monseigneur Hickey, and other luminaries mounted the huge bulldozer for pictures.

"Five bucks says they won't do it," a red-cheeked lad commented. We told him we didn't gamble, and also gently reminded him that he was implanted on our toes. An old woman with black coat and cane tottered across the safety line, and an officer quickly retrieved her.

"Tear the thing down," urged another citizen, interjecting among these four words an equal number of obscenities. Hizzoner and Monseigneur dismounted from the bulldozer. The Annunciators, noticeably weakened by their previous selection, began a prolonged drum roll.

The old wooden house, which had sheltered twenty families since the turn of the century, was stripped to its bare essentials. Now spotlighted, its windows removed, it stood trembling in the cold night air, awaiting the coup de grace. Two powerful cables hung from its roof. A sacrificial offering to the cause of urban renewal, the building held the audience in awed attention.

"Should've wrecked that old shack years ago," observed one. "I sort of liked it," said another timidly. "Progress," announced a third, "progress respects no sentiment."

Watching the huge trucks and big 'dozers revving their engines, we envisaged progress coming to Harvard. We saw the spectre of Mem Hall, reduced to its skeleton, spotlighted, awaiting execution. The crowd roared as the cables tightened. No time for sentiment, this.

The joints creaked, the walls moaned. But the old shell refused to fall.

"Ten bucks," our neighbor offered.

The Annunciators, with renewed gusto, added trumpet flourishes to the drum roll.

Another cable was attached, this time to an ominous-looking crane. The house quivered, veered to the East, more cheers, flashbulbs, louder drums.

A great crash, a cloud of smoke, and the crowd dispersed. Hizzoner sped off in a shiny new Chrysler. "They just made it," our speculator friend grumbled. "Good show," commented a departing observer.

We agreed it was. It isn't every day you can see them tear it down.

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