Just had to share this video of Noa and I chillin’ in the pool last Friday afternoon – celebrating a great first week back to school. We are at the Fernald Pool, a special needs pool which has a strange and interesting history (a bit more on that below) but over the summer it became one of our favorite hang-outs. The life guard, Jordawn, plays music and as you can see Noa is digging it. You can also see how enormous Noa is – her head is bigger than mine for cryin’ out loud!
Noa is actually doing a lot of great stuff in the pool – in addition to great chillin’ of course – she’s finally learned how to use the pool noddles to float (for a long time they were just for slapping the water). She also seems to enjoy throwing them. She is on the track team at school and throw for distance is one of favorites (yes, watch out!) The one good thing about this seems to be that she counts to three before throwing which gives us a fighting chance of stopping her before she experiments with throwing anything she shouldn’t. And she can throw!
As you can see, the pool is beautiful. It’s also heated – which Noa loves – and as you can see we’re the only ones in it which is often, but not always the case. There’s a bunch of regulars and we’ve come to know many of them. But most folks we talk to in Boston know about Fernald… but they have no idea that there is a pool – or anything – there that might be open.
A bit about Fernald – which is about 10 minutes away from us in Waltham. It’s oldest publicly funded institution in the Western hemisphere serving people who are – as they used say – “feeble-minded.” It’s about 186 acres including a church, it’s own power plant, it’s a village and it was as the center of the Eugenics movement in the 20’s, and later a place where children were used in medical experiments… so yeah. That kinda place.
At some point the state decided to close it down but some of the families fought the closing – their family members, now elderly, had never lived any place else and the families argued that transitioning them would have been too traumatic (it should be said, they had long-since cleaned up their act). Most of the inhabitants were re-located (including some to Perkins), but there were 13 hold-outs… and they are still there (or most of them). In one house. In one corner of the property. The rest is totally abandoned… except for the pool (the rest of the building that it is in is abandoned) which remains open for therapy and people with disabilities and it’s free to use but you have to quite literally drive through a strange, somewhat creepy ghost town to get there.
Once you get there you have to walk through the creepy mostly abandoned building to get to the pool, and of course the dressing rooms – which are somewhat creepy in their mostly abandoned way with random bit of old institutional furniture in various states of repair and only a handful of showers still functional.
Once Noa and I were in the dressing room and Jordawn (who is the only life guard, if she has an appointment the pool is just closed) came in to warn us not to be startled by the prison guard outside the door. Apparently inmates work for free, so the state was having them clear some stuff out of the building and so we might run into a prison and some guys in orange jumpsuits. It’s always an interesting scene at Fernald…
You can Google it to find out more if you want. It’s fascinating stuff and there is a great short film about some of the current residents and the legal battle to keep them there.