When people look at the Essex Street Gateway Community Mural, the numerous images presented on the wall can be confusing.
Now, there is an easier way to view and understand the mural.
The Team Haverhill civic organization, in connection with Virginia-based technology company Spatial Adventures, has developed a cellphone tour which points out significant features of the mural. The tour allows passersby to dial in a number on their cellphone and receive a narration of the images on the wall of the four-story building on Essex Street.
“Once the mural went up, we wanted to make sure that there was a way for the public to know what they are seeing,” said Alice Mann, chairwoman of Team Haverhill. “People are able to find and identify figures and are able to get acquainted with the mural.”
Mann narrates the tour, which is split into three segments, each a little over a minute long.
The first segment is an introduction which describes the background of the project and how the community was involved in every step of the project. It describes how the mural is based on the theater which was opened about a century ago by film mogul Louis B. Mayer just blocks from where the mural stands now. The narration also discusses how the mural is titled “Hues of the Heart,” based on a line in “A Lament” by famous Haverhill poet John Greenleaf Whittier.
In the second segment, the narration points out where the images of famous people with Haverhill roots are located in the mural. They include shoe designer Stuart Weitzman; professional baseball players Carlos Pena and Mike Ryan; horror film master Rob Zombie; Rowland Macy, founder of Macy’s stores; television star Tom Bergeron; Archie Comics creator Bob Montana; and fiction writers Andre Dubus and his son of the same name.
The third segment focuses on images that are symbols of Haverhill. Mann talks about the short-nose sturgeon, an endangered species found in the Merrimack River. Also mentioned is a house shown on the back wall of the theater which was dragged uphill to the waterfront to a safer location. The house symbolizes the city’s ability to adapt, such as the last several years when old shoe factories which were transformed into apartments and lofts.
Mann said she believes this is the first cell phone tour to be offered in the area.
“I’m not aware of anyone north of Boston who was doing anything like this,” she said. “We are pleased that we brought a new wrinkle to the arts and culture aspect of Haverhill and we hope that this will be an asset to other arts and culture movements.”
The audio is available in both English and Spanish to appeal to the growing Hispanic population in Haverhill. Claudia Hoyos does the narration in Spanish.
The cell phone tours have been available since the mural was unveiled in June. Mann said that in the 10 weeks since it’s been available, the tour has received 137 calls from 116 different phones in 13 different area codes.
“We’ve probably had even more than that because I’ve seen multiple people listening to the narration on one phone,” Mann said. “People are also able to call in and comment on the mural and narration.”
The mural also has another new addition, as LED lights were installed last month to allow the images to be seen at night. Tim Jordan, co-chairman of the mural project, said the lights will be on from 9 p.m. to 1 a.m. each evening. The lights are energy efficient and the electric costs are being paid by Steven and George Haginicolas, the owners of the building.