I explored this house in detail after I saw the yard was dug up from the water tap destroy. From the outside, it was cute yet nothing special. There was a workbench that was moved to the front yard, which sat for years. A faded bandanna clung to the dogwood for an equal spread of time. Inside this home was full of bittersweet beauty. It was a spacious, well cared-for and classy place. It was the type of house that the homeowners took pride in. Despite knowing for years it would all be flattened and crushed, they updated and wallpapered, painted and decorated. A great room with a cozy fireplace flanked with windows was just off the entrance foyer. To the right of the foyer was a handsome library that make me envious of the number of books that was once proudly displayed on the floor-to-ceiling shelves. The bedrooms told me that kids grew up here and possibly left as teenagers or older. The open kitchen and dining area was inviting to walk around in. I am sure the cabinetry would have been quite nice had they not been wrenched off by scavengers. It was the kind of place that you knew once Lambert’s final letter was delivered to them, the family’s heartache sunk in deep. There was a feeling that something was not quite right; not in an eerie, creepy way but in a sad and melancholy way. Standing inside this empty and ravaged house, I could almost hear the scornful tears of the family who probably will never feel at home like they did on Pont. Wherever they are, whatever place they now try to call home, I am sure this family can still feel it. Everyone I have talked with all tell me they still do.
Weekly I get mail and meet new contacts from Carrollton’s former residents (and thank you all- keep sending messages to me). Each one of them will forever regard themselves as victims of eminent domain abuse. They may have chosen their new house, but they did not choose to leave their homes in Carrollton. The more I speak to the former residents, the more I am offered encouragement and belief in this project. They seem to believe it will have some austere power to awaken the rest of the comfortable world to the real heartbreak of eminent domain. It continues, not just in Bridgeton, but across the St. Louis area, the state, the nation. Just this week, the Missouri Supreme Court made the decision for allowing cities to declare privately-owned land as eminent domain for commercial use. No property is now safe and certainly not sacred.
The least I can do is continue to gather information, continue to talk to the residents, and at the very least write a book about their experiences. The least I can do is to offer solace and maybe peace to the thousands of residents victimized over this one poorly-made decision. A decision to add a few extra flights to an airport that was even at the time flying under capacity. It is no different than buying out a small corner stand to add yet one more chain pharmacy where one already exists a half mile away. Lambert is no different than developers who partially destroy neighborhoods while crashing the property values of the remaining homes to add yet another big box store. City leaders are increasingly licking their lips at imaginary tax revenues and ready to offer TIFs and other incentives to these developers, kicking the wishes of their constituents out the door in the process. They get elected again and again when developers fund the campaigns. City residents on the other side of town are ignorant to the pleas of their neighbors simply because ‘its not affecting them.’ We need to wake up and realize it affects all of us. It changes the landscape of our lives in ways that are more harmful than a few dollar signs can comfort. I never thought I would become so adamant against eminent domain. All the painful stories collected from the residents of Carrollton have convinced me otherwise.
I bumped into one of my many favorite art teachers from high school. Her house was on Woodford Way, taken almost two years ago. When I told her about my project, she started to get a bit choked up. “I think that only now can I handle seeing the pictures.” She was not the first to show emotion and not the first to still remain bitter against Lambert after many years. She won’t be the last either.
Carrollton was able to fight it for decades. Though they lost the land, they still hung on longer than most people now are willing to fight Big Business. Through the yellow ribbons tied in solidarity, the weekly Bridgeton Air Defense (B.A.D.) meetings, the relentless and costly lawsuits that spanned decades, their loud voices could be heard until the wrecking crew’s crashing quieted their volumes. These residents had the courage to fight Big Business and they should still be proud to have come as far as they did. They lost their homes, but they did not lose their pride. Had they not fought, they would have been even worse for defeated.
For those keeping score at home, the total remaining homes is now 26.