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The body-part garden

And other recent highlights from the Ideas blog

Heide Hatry

A rose by another name may smell as sweet, but what about a rose made out of the dismembered reproductive organs of a clam? That, in a way, is the ontological riddle posed by the bizarre sculptures created by German
artist Heide Hatry, who re-creates flowers out of the refurbished parts of dead animals. Hatry calls her series “Not a Rose,” and it goes on display this week at Stux Gallery in New York. In addition to flowers made from shellfish, she’s sculpted a rose-like design using pigs’ ears and a pink tropical bloom out of the vocal cords of a hen. Hatry says her work is intended as a commentary on the ethics of meat consumption, but it’s arresting for other reasons as well: Out of context, even the most squeam-inducing animal parts have the same kind of lush, curving beauty as a petal.

Avoid the Boston almshouse!

ublic housing has always been a politically charged issue. That’s true in Boston today and, according to a pair of historians, it was true in late-18th century Boston as well, where residents of the burgeoning city had to figure out what to do with a rapidly expanding population of poor people.

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One of their chief tools was the almshouse. In a new paper published in the Journal of Interdisciplinary History, Ruth Wallis Herndon and Amilcar Challú of Bowling Green University explain that from 1795 to 1801, nearly 5 percent of Boston’s population took shelter for at least a short time in the Boston Almshouse, which was located directly adjacent to the Common. Many almshouse residents came from the densely populated North End; others were immigrants who’d lived in the commercial and shipping neighborhoods in the center of the city.

The West End Almshouse, 1828.

The almshouse was part public charity and part ghetto. Boston maintained a 12-member board of overseers of the poor that was responsible for consigning the city’s most indigent residents to the almshouse (though many other poor residents took refuge there voluntarily, especially during the winter). However, when city magistrates encountered people “whose characters are suspicious, whose morals are bad, who have no settled reputable means for a livelihood,” they skipped the almshouse and instead relocated these unwanted citizens back to their hometowns using a legal mechanism known as “warning out.”

Being forced from the city may have actually been preferable to living in the almshouse, which had a 20 percent mortality rate, most likely from infectious diseases. In 1801 the Boston elite decided that the almshouse had become a blight, and moved it from the Common to the distant West End, which was still mostly rural at the time. The new almshouse had twice the capacity of the old one—but more important, it helped to sanitize the core of the prospering city.

Kevin Hartnett is a writer who lives in Ann Arbor, Mich. He can be reached at
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