The Eerie Abandoned Neighborhood of Lincoln Way

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Have you ever wondered what the world would be like if you fast-forwarded into the distant future only to find yourself standing in the middle of post-apocalypse? Set aside a main road in Clairton, Pennsylvania, this strange world actually exists, sitting quietly on each side of a cracked and forgotten neighborhood street. So what exactly happened on Lincoln Way that made everybody abandon their homes in such a mad dash? What kind of stories sit buried in the remnants left behind by each family previously inhabiting these 16 houses? Was it a matter of fear as urban legends state, or simply the environment? Asking local authorities, or even the locals surrounding town, you can never exactly get a straight answer, while most will avoid answering completely.

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A long section of coke piles spans the foreground where a US Steel plant sits, stationed directly across the forgotten neighborhood street of Lincoln Way. I know I use the word forgotten a lot, but perhaps this space wasn’t as much forgotten as it was intentionally blocked out of people’s minds. A very strange silence filled the atmosphere as I walked the entire street examining each and every one of these dilapidated homes. Treacherously wandering through the snow, unaware of what sat beneath a blanket of white powder; nails, needles, glass and holes, I made my way up to one porch after the other, taking a journey inside and attempting to find any remaining pieces of past lives. I was completely FLOORED by what I had found in each one, or at least in most of them, since some of them were lacking any floors at all. As I walked a broken snow-covered street with wild wreckage leaning overhead at either side of me, it came to my attention that there were small sinkholes scattered through various parts of the land.

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As I walked along avoiding holes, I continued to find my way up to one porch after another, each time looking back and staring down a strange, quiet neighborhood. What’s even stranger is the fact that inside it’s as if everyone had left in such an insane hurry, as beds were left made neatly, food was scattered, dishes still in cabinets, some in the sink, family photos hung, books remained on shelves and clothes were still picked out for the next day, which sadly never came for them. In one house, even a car remained parked neatly in the garage, now covered in years of dust.

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Some homes have been rotting years longer than others. A few of the homes on this block housed elderly people, some of whom ended up passing away with little to no family left and for whatever reason, nobody bothered to clean out any of the houses. One particular structure has sat vacant since 1972, after the final remaining tenant; a woman by the name of ILem White died, leaving behind all furniture and other belongings, much of which is still sat to this day. After 40 plus years of nature taking over, floors and foundations can grow very weak, and should not be taken lightly…no, they should not be taken at all, because even lightly can end up quite horribly. As my friend attempted to stand atop a bookshelf to get a shot on the second story, both bookshelf and floor below it began to give away falling into the basement. Thankfully my friend jumped back and remained unharmed. I had experienced a folly of my own when climbing a bed to take a photograph. I thought it would be incredible looking down at how the room had completely collapsed right at the beds edge viewing from atop the mattress. As I attempted a very awkward hop up to the bed, my boot caught bed sheets and became entangled, pulling me back and shifting my weight as the floor bowed beneath the bed and myself. Thankfully, I was able to catch myself, because I was not in the right mood to fall 3 stories into a basement that day. I got the photo and quickly made my way back to the stairs along what could not have even been a foot length worth of floor to work with looking over the edge.

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Standing at the entrance of this neighborhood street was like facing the frontlines of post-apocalypse, staring down what the world has become after most of us have gone. Toxic fumes poured from the US Steel plant behind where I stood. Some believe that the fumes may have aided in creation of these sinkholes, while others believe it to have been a combination of a gas leak alongside the fume-contaminated soil below. A gas leak is a good place to start, considering there were gas leaks reported on October 11, 2006 at 6:30pm – these were reported only shortly before the entire block had become completely abandoned. Upon confronting some of the structures burned, it had become obvious that there had been quite a few fires over time, one fire in particular occurring on November 7, 2006 at 2:16 am. The final unit was cleared at 2:35 am.

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An urban legend remains stuck to the crushed and ruptured asphalt of this eerie neighborhood, and considering how incredibly quiet everybody is about its history, it might not even be far from truth. Though it is not my own story, I will do my best to retell the legend in my own words.

It’s hard to truly conclude what is fact or fiction with Lincoln Way, but the legend tells of a creature; something not human, but unlike any animal that it could be compared to. People claimed that this creature would torment residents, while pets would go missing, later found disfigured and maimed at the forest’s edge surrounding town. Aside from mangled pets, gardens would be found torn to shreds by bigfoot-size paws, far too large to belong to any animals native to Pennsylvania. People would sometimes talk of the creature thumping, rattling and scratching at the sides of their homes.

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In one incident, a young man and his friend ventured to the neighborhood at night in an attempt to debunk the legend, only soon finding that they had made a horrible mistake. Parking their blue pickup truck at the beginning of the street, they set out determined to explore and prove the legend wrong. As they ventured through each house, noticing how all items from family photos to neatly made beds remained, the sun slowly went down outside. Suddenly, right upon their exit, they heard three long scratching sounds followed by a loud ‘BANG!’ Noticing it was coming from behind a house, one of the two decided it would be worthy of checking out, still wanting to prove everyone wrong. Sneaking to a backyard where the noise was coming from, he inched his way, back against the house’s side, slowly making his way toward the noise. He could hear something large creeping towards him through the tall grass, when suddenly a deep and hellish growl brought him to full attention. Now staring at the wicked beast, he could see that it stood on all fours, as big as a horse with what seemed to be thick black hair covering it’s entire body. Noticing that the beast had razor sharp claws longer than fingers and a mouth full of razor-sharp teeth, all he could do was stand completely silent in horror. Becoming suddenly spooked by one more growl, he dropped the flashlight and immediately began a sprint back towards the truck, diving in as fast as he could.

Legend says that the beast is not alone. When they had turned their truck around, for a moment the headlights faced the forest and pointed into the trees, revealing numerous sets of blood red shining eyes in the darkness of night.

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This story led to the belief that the street was abandoned out of pure fear. As the creature’s torment began to escalate, a very dark terror began to sweep in and the numbers began to drop. At first, only a couple of people left, one other dying from what was thought to be just old age. Pretty soon, fear became far too great and the entire remaining community decided to pick up and leave as fast as they possibly could, without saying a word. When you’re scared to near death, faced with what seems like a demon spawned from hellfire, it’s kind of difficult to pack your Kudos bars and Spongebob DVDs, let alone couches and chairs.

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We may never be quite completely certain as to why Lincoln Way was left the way it was in such a blind hurry, but it makes for a very eerie, interesting mystery. Who knows why the city won’t say a word, and who knows why neighboring areas are so shy about it? Is it out of fear, or something else?

 

#OhioToOregon Stickers Are All Complete!

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By grabbing a pack of these stickers, you not only show some awesome support for the #OhioToOregon project – you will also get a chance to win a FREE copy of my book “Empty Spaces.” This will be the 3rd free book contest/drawing. In this specific one, I am asking that people put these stickers wherever they want, wherever they can, do something interesting, unique, creative with them, post a photo of what you came up with to Facebook and hashtag #OhioToOregon. All of them that I like the most I will be re-posting, and the best/most creative way to use the stickers will win a free copy of my book!

If you would like a set of these stickers, please follow the link below. I am shipping out the first bunch tomorrow, so come grab some before I ship the first set! smile emoticon

Thank you to everybody for the support in this project, and we will make this something amazing!

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Down in New Orleans – Expedition in The Dirty South

It was 8 o’clock pm on Thursday January 15, 2015 when we said goodbye to Ohio. With the entire Ohio group together, we finished packing ourselves into a car, ready now for the following seven hours South to Nashville. It’s no secret that any good road trip needs good snacks, while at the same time, all good road trips should also have a set list of goals. With a 4.9 pound bucket of animal crackers at our center, finishing the entire thing became one of them. This fell right beside our goal to document the 10-year aftermath of what has been left behind from hurricane Katrina, and though a bucket of animal crackers may not be as impressive or educational, it is quite the damn accomplishment.

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Laughter and music filled the car with a happy and upbeat feeling as we inched our way mile after mile towards Tennessee to meet with our Virginia friends. The next 17 and a half hours would come to be quite an experience full of unexpected, unplanned, awkwardly planned and amazing adventures. Near deaths, sketchy adventures, different foods, culture and a true dirty South experience.

The further South we traveled, more and more stars began to show themselves across a clear night sky. It’s amazing how the Earth can completely change in scenery given some hours of distance apart. One moment I’m staring down snow covered maple trees and the icy roads of Ohio, and only some hours later I find myself gazing out at the wide open, warmer scenery of near central Tennessee.

Our first stop, randomly planned as a last minute endeavor before removing ourselves from the state of Tennessee, was the old Tennessee state prison. This short journey was cut significantly shorter when we first approached the gates, only to find that there was still an active prison section complete with a very active guard. Quickly turning around, the six of us met at a nearby gas station just over the other side of some train tracks. With the prison being pretty much out of the question after having been yelled at by the guard, we figured it would be a good time to continue our main route to New Orleans.

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Shortly after our failed prison attempt, it was realized that we would need to stop for gas and a bathroom. Now, most people with a level head would not, at least on better judgment, attempt to eat the breakfast sandwich coming from a place known as “Sneaky Pete’s.” Our group however is different. Presented with these sandwiches, bought for the group by one of the six, we may have discovered one of the greater breakfast sandwiches to come out of Tennessee. While it may have been delicious, now with the fear of contracting “sneaky Pete disease” (because why is he being so sneaky?) we were on route down to Alabama.

Planning shenanigans between cars via text and phone call, it was decided that we would stop somewhere during sunrise to capture whatever radiant glow the morning threw to us as we dropped into Alabama. A quick detour from the freeway put us into a small Alabama town, where we could see the sun rising over the distant skyline. An orange glow shone from the dim countryside streetlights in the brisk morning air. We looked out upon a brightening blue sky, tinted with hues of yellow and orange, becoming lighter with every passing minute. After stretching our legs, moving around and enjoying a nice change of non-highway scenery different from the last 10 hours, we were once again headed towards our destination. Next stop – Mississippi.

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I’m not sure if it was that we ended up driving basically straight through or the fact that I was running on no sleep, zoning harder than a brick without enough steady streaming thought to come up with a better analogy than a brick, but I can’t seem to remember a damn thing from this state. The closest thing I remember is the completely insane joy we all had upon arriving into Louisiana. Our hotel check in time was not until 2pm, so at the time being around 10am, we still had some good hours to kill. Twenty miles or so from New Orleans we made our very first footsteps into beautiful sunny weather onto the charred remains of a fishing bridge surrounded by an overflowing river. Where benches and picnic tables used to sit in grass, everything now sits covered in water, no longer enjoyed nearly the same as it all was before.

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Now heading towards the abandoned Six Flags of New Orleans readying ourselves for our following adventures, we cruised slowly down an outer lying side street towards a main road just on the parks outskirts. Pulling out to make a left turn into the lane in front of us, a sudden crash rattled the entire car sending us into a sliding quarter spin. The opposing vehicle, a large black truck, lost control and nearly raced face first into a telephone pole ahead, obliterating gas prices on the gas station tree lawn, finally swerving to miss the pole by only about a foot. The driver of our group ran quickly to see if the person driving the truck was okay, when a small Asian woman emerged. She was a bit shaken by the incident, as I am sure we all were, but everybody was okay. It turns out that the vehicle she was driving was her husbands company vehicle, so he was called up shortly after, arriving on the scene in just a few minutes. Thankfully this man was once of the calmest and most collected people around, not wanting to kill us and happy that everyone was okay. Looking back on it, it seems like a bit of a tale; something that you would have to witness to truly believe. We had a surprisingly comforting conversation with the man, his two gold teeth shining as he smiled and we all shook hands. Once everything was clear, we were on to our first true abandoned exploration of the trip – an old pink hotel, which sat across the street from the gas station where we currently sat. In the spirit of true exploring, you can’t let something like this stop your adventure and we never will. Even if the bathroom at the gas station resembles a bathroom from hell.

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Leaving the gas station, it was agreed that we would meet at our previously booked motel room to rid the excess clutter and baggage throughout our cars and put it into our room. For myself at this point, the tired had begun to truly hit my entire being, and while I felt like complete and total shit I could not refuse to try and explore at least one more location. I had not slept, I had barely eaten a thing since the previous breakfast bagel hours prior. I was beginning to feel like death. As my head pounded, stomach turned and vision began to develop into a blurry mess, I climbed the stairs up, up and up to each higher floor inside this former Days Inn hotel. Standing atop the roof, everything finally hit…I felt as though I was going to simply pass out, fall off the roof itself or just lay down and die. My head pounded so hard it felt as though my brain was about to crack my skull open and leak onto the mossy roof at my feet. Finally able to pull myself together I began to make my way down the nearest stairwell. In a stumbled mess of confusion, I almost laid my hand atop an African wasp that had just so nicely placed himself on the side of a moldy mattress against the wall. It was definitely time that I needed to sleep, and as little as I truly wanted to, it was necessary.

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I barely remember the car ride home, or exploring most of the hotel for that matter, but I do remember being woken up a bit more to the smell of the master chef of our group cooking our dinner in the motel bathroom. Yes, the motel bathroom. Daniel, being the world master chef he is, brought a fucking portable kitchen with him, complete with amazing, healthy and fresh food to cook for the entire group. I woke my ass out of bed, because I needed to photograph this genius setup. Now THAT is motel living, my friends.

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This is how you do it. We were living the motel life.

As the night came to a close for myself, I stayed back while everyone went out for a quick night venture. I wish more than anything that I could have gone, but my body and head would just not let me. I rested up for a little bit, falling half asleep to one of the ridiculous Chucky films, waking up nearly an hour later to realize that they were playing them in a marathon series. So of course, I ended up watching Chucky for the next hour, finally able to stomach some food and rest myself until being greeted by an exhausted group, half covered in mud another hour later. So instead of setting off alarms like in a recent previous adventure, we all set alarms on our phones to wake us up at 430am, quickly passed out and before we knew it, were up again to greet the day with one of our biggest adventures ever; to explore the abandoned New Orleans Six Flags.

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As we stood amidst wild destruction left behind by Katrina looking through tall wooden coasters, the sky was lit with a bright brilliance of stars while the night slowly transitioned to a morning sunrise radiating bright oranges, deep pinks and fiery reds. As the sun continued its ascension above the horizon, all surrounding us was transformed to a vivid view of post-apocalypse, while all we could do was marvel at its intense radiance shining from behind the Ferris wheel, light reflecting from metal bars of roller coasters, not a person in sight. Overgrowth has swallowed many pieces, growing wildly ever since the rain and waves from Katrina flooded everything completely; a gleaming, sun-painted land straight out of Jurassic Park.

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Opened as Jazzland in 2000, the park enjoyed a good couple of years until being renamed in 2003 to Six Flags New Orleans; how it is more commonly known. The park boasted 20 rides, 4 roller coasters and even 2 water rides. Unfortunately, unknown to them after signing a 75-year lease with the city, Six Flags would come to experience quite a water ride for itself in 2005.

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When Hurricane Katrina hit, devastating and destructive waters rushed over the land, submerging the park as it’s drainage pumps were unsuccessful, failing under heavy depths of such a massive storm surge. For over a month, 4 to 7 feet of corrosive brackish floodwater drowned the park, and due to long-term salt-water immersion, the park was deemed unfit for use with most buildings being declared practically 80 percent demolished. Finally freeing themselves from their lease in 2009, there have been numerous talks of what is to be done with the grounds, but nothing has come of it.

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It was a sad and devastating time for the residents of New Orleans and surrounding areas to go through such an Earth shattering storm. Nearly 10 years later, homes remain scattered through New Orleans’ East side, among other areas where hurricane relief was more scarce and less distributed. Walking through some of these areas is like walking through a ghost town that many want to forget, while at the same time hold onto so dearly. As we wandered the streets, half would be abandoned, washed out from Katrina’s destruction, while the other half would be restored, lived in and appear to be a lively piece of the community rebuilt. Don’t wander off too far though, or you might find yourself in the middle of some very unfriendly neighborhoods. Even before the hurricane, people were somewhat hostile down there, but with many having lost their homes even more have become more so. Witnessing the remaining devastation in person was a wild experience, and I am truly sorry to all those who lost family, friends or other important parts of their lives. It’s wild how one moment, everything can be going just as normal, and only a short moment later, things can go completely out of control. This is why we should always let those around us know how much we care.

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Things got awkward for us in the French Quarters when our friend’s car decided it would be the perfect time to give up. The car has an issue to begin with, where it needs a jump to start, and while we normally were able to jump it no problem to get it up and going, this time it had to happen directly in the center of 90 percent of New Orleans tourist traffic. Oh, and horses, don’t forget the horses. Pulling up to our right side, cutting off a horse, we were nearly rear ended by a man who could just not hold his horses. Getting rear ended by a horse…no matter which way you try to split that, it just doesn’t sound one bit pleasant. The man continued yelling at us until we finally were able to move out of his way enough to fit his horse through. I’m sure we angered quite a large group of people and cause quite the traffic commotion behind us, but we succeeded, and we were on our way to eat some gator!

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We were directed to a restaurant by the name of Huck Finn’s being one who had some of the best alligator in New Orleans. Our waitress starts conversation with us (a table of 6 white as ghost people) asking us about where we are from, so we tell her the Cleveland, OH area, 2 of us being from Virginia. She then begins to ask us if we had seen a recent football game that Ohio played against them, to which Ryan replies “Nah, not much of a Browns fan.” Our waitress looks at us like we had just said something horribly racist, completely holding back probably a burst of anger and a slap for Ryan’s face. She did not know the Browns were a football team. Pretty sure she was relieved when she learned that. See, the issue was, none of us were aware that it was an Ohio a State game that she was referencing…interesting first impression. As we sat finishing our meals ready to head out for our next venture, we were directed by our waitress to a wonderful location to see the sunset, and we were off. She was right; it was brilliant.

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As we return for one final night in our motel, Ryan decided that it would be as close to the warmth we will be getting anytime soon in Ohio, and took a quick jump into the pool. Soaking wet and now shaking from the cold night air, he took those dripping final steps back to our motel room, where we would soon all pass out, drained from the previous days but still with so much ahead.

The day is now Sunday, and it’s time to say goodbye to NOLA as we all pack back into our cars, now headed for the Smoky Mountains of Tennessee. Eight hours from our current location, we have half of our drive home ahead of us, preparing to stay the night at a motel in the mountains. At only 40 dollars a night for a two-bed room, you really can’t beat that price. On the way through Mississippi, our eyes had been focused on a worn out and abandoned mall we had noticed the previous day. A quick venture around the exterior displayed absolutely no means of entrance, and with the police station next door, it was best that we stay away from another Riverside incident. We did make a couple great new friends at the local Wendy’s when Ryan had literally given one employee the shirt off his back, simply because she liked it. We bid farewell to our newly made friends, whom we will most likely never meet again, and were on our way once again.

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Our motel room was booked as we approached the state of Alabama. Alabama’s countryside is a beautifully quiet, wonderfully dark land, with an amazingly black night sky hanging overhead, lit by the bright light of hundreds upon hundreds of stars and our very own Milky Way. Deciding to make a blind guess at a random area to stop for photos, we exited the freeway and were dropped into a small countryside town, complete with a small mountain, which provided us the most narrow and curvy road ever to travel up to reach the top. After winding through what seemed like endless forest, we had reached our destination. Standing atop this quiet hillside, the trees open up a clear window to a beautiful deep blue night sky overhead.

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Nobody ever really wants to run into someone with a gun, but it seems to happen to us more often than we would really prefer. Apparently, we had landed ourselves onto someone’s land…this someone just so happened to be the only person around. As he slowly pulls up, his 2-year-old daughter on his lap, gun on his passenger seat, he questions us as to what we are doing. Thankfully, without show of Southern hospitality, he didn’t mind us photographing the night sky. In the end, everything turned out much better than expected, but I would definitely imagine it could seem strange, when a group of people with cameras is parked near your countryside property, normally void of most any other human life. We slowly crept back down a treacherous one way road in the wrong direction, and as we zigzagged down making our way through the forest, we were praying that luck would once again be on our side, even if for just a short moment, and that the road would stay free of oncoming traffic. Everything was a success and nothing killed us! Pressing on, we continued our journey.

The night grew closer to a close as we were dropped into yet another Wendy’s – this time in our destination state of Tennessee, fairly close to our resting area. A quick stop for food and we were only moments from the mountains.

Driving into the Smoky Mountains at night was like entering a quiet town that had forgotten to take its multi-thousand dollar Christmas display down nearly a month past the holiday. Everybody has a favorite though, I suppose – either that or Gatlinburg is just the drunk uncle of cities. With such a welcoming display of winter lining the streets all throughout town, I couldn’t help but feel that we had made a wrong turn somewhere and stumbled upon the North Pole.

In the Smoky Mountains, not only do you have the picturesque scenery and surroundings that create a photographers natural funhouse, but you will receive one hell of a package deal if you happen to be a photographer whom also enjoys a good explore through forgotten structures. Within these mountains, behind the trees, mossy rocks and various foliage, lies so many scattered abandoned houses, it’s like the cat and dog chewed up hundreds of Legos and scattered them through a furry green shag carpeting. An entire resort remains, facing the end of their lives, fading to dirt and dust, only to remain as memories among the old dirt trails winding the mountains. In the mountains, cell phone service is non-existent. It was nice to get so far away from the hustle and bustle of normal life below us, adding to that feeling of post-apocalypse, now starting to paint a very realistic impression through imagination. Nobody cared to check their phones, we weren’t sucked into texting, email, internet or social media; we were all alone surrounded by powerful nature. We had everything we needed with us; the company of good friends and an amazing adventure. Humanity seemed to have been lost as we walked the quiet mountainside during sunrise. We must have wandered this never-ending plethora of cracked cabins, strewn along a beautiful creek side for at least five hours, stopping to photograph a wildly different view of each one that we passed.

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Our group would soon part ways, but not before wandering an abandoned putt-putt, grabbing lunch and having an interstate food fight between cars. As all good things must come to an end, this venture must as well. I could not have asked for a better group to share this expedition with, and the memories will stay with us all for a lifetime through photos, videos and writing. These adventures will be here for others to hear, and hopefully inspire them to create their own experiences just as great. Even though this one is over, there will be a lifetime more to come, filled with memories that have yet to be created, across lands untraveled, locations unexplored and the forgotten to be found. Until next time.

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The Abandoned East Atlanta High

A place once frequented by squatters, this former elementary school was a lively part of Eastern Atlanta, and while it is still lively with nature, I wonder ‘where did the education go?’ Perhaps out one of the many broken windows…

We find ourselves quietly standing among the destruction of a large, once vibrant gymnasium inside the John B. Gordon School. Staring upwards towards gaping holes across the ceiling, a background ambience of passing cars and cluttered yelling carries through the air from streets outside. This school, built in 1909, was named after a brigadier general of the Civil War, and 1886 Governor of Georgia, John Brown Gordon. Originally called the East Atlanta School, somewhere near the year 1925, it took on the revised name, shortly followed by an addition to the building built in 1934.

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The town was booming come the arrival of the 1950s, and with an A&W Root Beer drive-in standing directly across the street from school, how could things not be perfect? All the way into the 1960s, shops and restaurants held the attentions of children and adults alike, including a Charlie’s Hamburgers and East Atlanta Pharmacy soda fountain, where you could grab a hot dog for just 10 cents!

Sadly, as with many places scattered atop the surface of our wonderful Earth, the John B. Gordon School took a silence-shattering fall in the year of 1995 and was left entirely abandoned. Here I was, 5 years old, just beginning my educational path, while elsewhere, entire schools were being left in the dust. It’s truly insane when I really sit down and think about it, entire student bodies being transferred and going through these rough patches, while my little suburban neighborhood was moving along just fine…well, other than the millions of dollars in debt that our school systems supposedly face, but that’s an entirely different story. Shortly after, in 1997 Inman Park Properties purchased the property for $200,000, with plans of converting it to the J.B. Gordon Lofts. As with many planned operations such as this, the building remained empty. There sat a once functioning system, forgotten for 10 years, finally foreclosed on in 2009, under a debt load of more than 4 million dollars. Good news is, it can be all yours for the low, low price of just $1.65 for 41,000 square feet.

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Oh wait, $1.65 million.

I think it’s safe to say that nothing will be happening with this derelict beast for quite some time now, if ever…at least not until that price tag can drop a couple digits.

Growing up, I began to realize how distorted our educational system is truly becoming, even in my neat little suburban “happy go lucky” city. See, there were large differences between many of the teachers I had throughout the years, attending mainly local schools, with the exception of one year in Austin, Texas, while spending half of my high school years studying art at a separate school, which showcased vastly different attitudes. While some teachers would make the most of each and every day, stand by your side and praise you for a job well done, the rest would simply not give a shit one way or another as long as they went home with a paycheck earned through mediocrity of a job done half-assed. It’s okay though, because they gave you a packet, right? The damn packet was like the get out of jail free card for these teachers, absolved of their bullshit and cleansed through paper confessional. One thing I did learn from these specific teachers though, was that you can’t expect someone to become excited when you, yourself make no effort to build any level of excitement to break the ice in the first place. If you’re a dance instructor, you don’t explain 2 percent of something, hand someone a damn packet, tell him or her to read it over and shove a test in their face the day after, expecting them to succeed with flying colors. Get off of your lazy ass and get involved. If you can’t do that, then how do you expect your students to reciprocate?

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Enough ranting, though you may wonder how this connects other than the relation to education. See, if every teacher could have the same or similar attitudes of the ones who truly taught me, I believe school systems could almost be better off, leaving less to fall into such a state of shit. It’s ridiculous seeing how many of these massive educational buildings are laid to waste as I drive along these roads. Don’t get me wrong, I love seeing the surreal aspect of nature taking back what belonged to her in the first place, I love exploring the abstract and abandoned…I love how beautiful the destruction of such a place can truly be, learning the history through fragments of lives left behind, and hey, I know we can’t save them all, but this is the future of our planet emerging from these places, we can’t keep pushing it down hill, tossing things aside like they mean nothing. Ever heard the term “role model?” Do you see how that plays a part?

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But hey, I’m just a photographer with a big mouth and a warped perspective of the world around me. I love it, though.

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We really need to start taking better care of things.

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The Randall Park Mall – A Great American Shopping Mall Laid To Rest

A dusty pay phone hangs from its metal cord amongst the massive heap of destruction surrounding it. As I stood centered within this impressive, eerily quiet structure, all I could wonder was “where has all of the life gone?”

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In 1976 the world’s largest shopping mall would open its doors for the first time to shoppers from around the country. Cars packed the mall’s parking lot from front to back in every direction, at parts even stretching to lots across the street while hurried shoppers took part rushing around the beauty of a brand new piece to the puzzle of the “American Dream.” 33 years later, either the cat would end up stealing this piece or someone would spill water on it.

2,000,000 square feet made up this once monumental shopping center where they would come to hold concerts, holiday events and much more. Teens would hang out, men proposed to their future, and in certain cases, current wives, children played alongside fountains; the scenery was bright and beautiful. Edward J. DeBartolo, the man who dreamt this mall into reality with help from his younger brother and architect Frank DeBartolo, had first envisioned the space as a “city within a city,” which is pretty much what it had become. With 200 shops, a 3-screen theatre and 5,000 employees it was arguably enough human life alongside man-made creation to be considered a miniature city or village.

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For years the mall was a bustling shopper’s paradise providing practically anything you could need. Christmas time was loud, festive and wonderful as people passed each other in the long echoing hall, sounds of people moving along the catwalk chatting would reverberate with sounds of Christmas tunes harmonically filling the air and blending together in traditional “mall ambience.” Life was so beautiful and happy. The original 3-screen theatre was opened at the same time as the mall, becoming a second-run theatre in 1991 and finally closing in 1993. Upon the theatre’s closure, a wall was built to hide the main stairs, which had originally led to concession stands. A former store by the name of “Diamond’s Men’s Store” had taken the space and converted it to storage, and by the early 2000s, had extended their glass display out front, overlapping where the theatre entrance once was; this left the theatre forever hidden, left behind in the darkness, invisible to many who had passed by never to know that it once existed. This theatre was replaced in 1999 by a 12-screen “Magic Johnson Cinema” taking its place in the original meant-to-be location of the never-built Halle’s anchor due to falling business. However, this theatre only remained active until being sold by Loew’s in 2007, becoming the “O Theatre” – boasting the slogan “O what a bargain!” O Theatre was short-lived, closing in late 2008 and taking their phone number and website offline.

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The titanic superstructure that once drew crowds of multiple tens of thousands now began dwindling more and more as years passed. After the 2001 closure of a main anchor, JCPenney, things began to head south for Randall Park Mall. By 2003, over half of the mall sat vacant, now including the former Dillard’s, followed by Macy’s shuttering their store in February of 2008. The area surrounding the mall became a dirty and desolate place, some pieces almost like a ghost town. People became less interested in hanging around as crime rates were on the rise. Besides, when you can do everything on the Internet, who really needs to go outside, right?

On February 26, 2009, the mall’s final traditional anchor store would close its gates for good. Sears was closed with a final day of business on Sunday, June 14, 2009. By May of 2009, any power to the mall was completely cut, leaving it a gloomy, silent, barren zone while an unearthly aura of post-human life stretched from one end of the long hall to the other. Five years later, March of 2014, it was announced that this structure would be demolished for an industrial park. Demolition began December of 2014, and I was lucky enough to be able to photograph the final collapse of this beautiful building, capturing a memory that will soon be swept away forever.

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Roaming each dusty corridor, I tried to picture the halls full of life; I attempted to hear music bouncing throughout the wide-open spaces. I heard nothing, I saw nobody. One of the only few audible noises remaining was that, which came from a distant opening where pieces of destruction clanged against each other, knocking into walls. I could hear the screeching howl of wind as it passed broken glass with a mad rush above my head. Floors were flooded, while in ground seating spaces were filled with frozen water. The entire place has been turned upside down, converted to a madhouse of ruin; the downfall of a once great American dream. As I sat beside planters once full of growing green life, now full of crippling death, I could feel wind picking up as it raced down the hallway over my shoulders from behind. Shutters of former department stores clanged in a baleful movement, shaking like thunder, rattling me as I sat still. I walked each desolate hall, and as I walked, thousands of shattered glass fragments crunched beneath my feet, slipping and sliding across the grungy tile floor.

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Following stairs up to the second story, I found myself staring out over what used to be most of Dillard’s. Now gazing off into a golden sunset, I stood at a crumbling edge trying to see into the past. It looked as though a bomb had gone off as the store seemingly dropped into oblivion. As I watched the sun fade further into the horizon, I listened to the sound of passing cars on a nearby road. It was like I knew life was all around me but I couldn’t find any, almost as if I was truly stuck in a world of post-apocalypse, simply generating a suppressed memory bringing the illusion of life to a false reality, longing for interaction and communication that has been gone for so long. Where has all of the life gone?

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The Old Riverside Hospital

Stationed only a block or so from the local police department in downtown Toledo remains a forgotten and fragmented structure formerly known as The Riverside Hospital. The hospital was opened in 1883 as a home for unwed mothers in the Northern Toledo area, welcoming them in under the supervision of the Sisters of Mercy. The hospital had operated under their supervision until 1983, when it had changed hands, becoming part of Mercy Health Partners.

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At the time of its full closure in 2002, nearly 270 beds remained only to now collect dust as time faded life away further and further. Local urban legends suggest that ghosts of former doctors and patients now roam the tunnels beneath this structure, but nothing is for certain. The hospital is now owned and monitored by the Toledo Public Schools; information bestowed upon us quite unwillingly and uncomfortably.

December 29, 2014 – the day we would personally meet the entire Toledo Police force. Our day started just like many others, with a journey towards Detroit, Michigan, where we were headed to photograph the Packard Plant; a place that surprisingly none of us have ever photographed, seeing as everyone and their uncle has. It was soon realized that a quick detour would take us to a lesser-explored hospital, so with a quick shift of our GPS, we were en route to the old Riverside Hospital.

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Upon surveying the area, traipsing hospital grounds back and forth, we had finally secured an entrance. It was decided that one of us would make our way into a second story window near the decaying smoke stack, and like a wild monkey who had just downed 8 pots of coffee, he was up and in. It was soon discovered that the building held one very important piece the rest of us needed…a ladder. Legs clanged against a metallic top, as the ladder was lowered from an adjacent second story window onto what seemed to be an old power generator. Thus, we began our sketchy and rattling climb toward our window entrance.

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Stepping into this hospital was like being submerged in a world that humans had vacated in such a blind hurry that all was left behind. Blood sits in vials as the glass collects dust, patient files were left rotting in the stale, stagnant air and like a bomb had gone off, windows are blasted out remaining in shattered piles scattered across the grungy lab floors. Lower floors were littered with surgical and examination rooms where water has begun to make its way in, leaving the air sour with an odor of water damage. It truly makes you wonder, when you see something as strange as a surgical table where they seemingly left mid-surgery never to return. Surgical implements remain placed atop a rolling tray cart beside the operating table. Needles and blood soaked first-aid materials sit alone while year after year passes by. Standing at the counter, my feet became partially submerged in a small level of water that had made its way in from busted pipes. The room was pitch-black dark, quiet and cold; these are moments that I love. There is something so intriguing about feeling like the world outside has absolutely no clue where you are, while at the same time feeling that all life has vanished. I know all is alive and well just outside these walls, but we are seemingly alone in this world. This was almost the case today.

One wrong turn up one wrong stairwell, a motion alarm was tripped and we were headed for the exit with no more chance of success than you have at seeing a sober parent at Chuck E. Cheese’s. As I mentioned earlier, the police station sat only a short block away, and it was at this moment as we ran through the trashed, destroyed halls that we knew we had to either give up, or find an alternate point of exit. The alternate point of exit seemed like a very slight possibility for only a moment, until 5 or 6 cars were lined up with the only possible exits being blocked. As we sat quietly tucked away inside of a room, we exchanged escape plans, contemplating what would be the best route. One member of the group had become separated from the 4 of us, and while wondering where he may have wandered off to, the rest of us journeyed to the lower floors in very small hope of making any positive progress. We began to hear a group of officers talking in the distance from the first floor, which sent us scurrying straight back upwards, trapping us once again in the cramped corner room of a hallway where it had all begun.

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Slowly peering from the edge of a nearby window, a member of our group had heard officers entering a passcode in, gaining entrance to the building. As we stood silently toward back of this corner room debating our next move, a loud thud filled the silence, shaking a floor of the structure. We figured there was absolutely no way it could have been our friend, considering he would for sure be remaining quiet, though we were not quite sure where else it could have come from. Moments later, the footsteps of approaching officers became audible and it was at this second we knew it was just about time that we should give ourselves up. So stuck between nothing but a short hallway and stairwell leading to nothing but our inevitable failure at an escape, we rounded the corner with hands up, cameras around our necks and multiple guns pointed at our faces by 5 different officers.

“Hands up, remove your backpacks and hands against the wall. Now!” Difficult to tell which officer was talking to whom at this point, as everything had instantly fluttered into a chaotic mess. We were all quickly put against the mold-coated walls with hands up and searched for weapons.

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After this wonderfully casual introduction, we all began talking about the building, learning that the Toledo Public Schools were the current owners and had actually boarded the entire place the day before; but they left the second story open. According to an officer, we were lucky to show ourselves when we did, considering the dogs were en route to the building from nearly 2 minutes away. Upon finding our friend who had wandered by himself, an officer who had found him before the rust of us had been discovered, tackled him to the floor causing the aforementioned thud.

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In the end, we had a good chat and even a couple of laughs between the officers and our group, including one great exploring tip – “next time, pull up the ladder.” The next day, we would visit and attend court for our charges, along with the famous tip once again by both judge and court-appointed defense lawyer – “make sure you pull up the ladder next time.” Within hours of the hospital adventure, we enjoyed a sunset from Detroit’s Packard Plant; a great end to the evening.

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In conclusion, they WILL catch you if you attempt to explore this building, and number two…court is NEVER fun. Oh, and make sure you pull up the ladder.

Thank you to Jacob Bacon for the photo of Ryan climbing into the window.

SO DON’T GO HERE OKAY.

The Abandoned Belle Isle Zoo

What happens when an entire zoo falls into collapse, remaining untouched by humans for years? If you were to walk the grounds of the once lively Belle Isle Zoo, you would find the answer to this. What was once used to shelter wild animals, from monkeys to cheetahs to the king of the jungle for people’s odd enjoyment, has now become the very eerie reality of a true jungle. The elephants have vanished, and taking their place is nothing but nature’s combative overgrowth pouring upwards through cracks in the former habitat’s cement foundation. Where once was filled with water is now nearly bone dry, while trees and foliage cover boardwalks like emerald canopies. This has become nature’s zoo now, as it shows off the chaotic destruction it can bring forth once we simply turn our heads the opposite way.

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This two-and-a-half mile long island sits atop the Detroit River, and has been a beautiful destination for generation after generation of families and tourists alike. In 1910, the decision had been made to place a zoo mid-park, which remained active for the next 46 years, welcoming well-dressed families and soon to be fading memories. Welcoming the year 1956, we find that the zoo had changed faces, becoming a children’s zoo, after the main zoo had moved to its current home in Royal Oak.

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1980 would become the welcoming year for a place called “Safariland” to take the place of this now former children’s zoo. In June of this year, an unnamed 9 month old bear, resident to Safariland, had managed to secure an exit and make her way across a half mile of the Detroit River into Windsor, Canada. It was decided later that the bear would be released into the wild to continue her life naturally.

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2002 rolled around and due to monetary and budgeting issues, the zoo was permanently closed, doomed to remain nothing but a fading memory. Much metal has been stripped by scrappers, people have made their marks with graffiti and the raised boardwalks continue to collapse more and more with each passing year. A new zoo has been built at an opposite end of the island park, so it is currently unclear what may come of this once bustling attraction. One thing is clear, however; nature will always remain the most powerful force in our universe, no matter how hard we try to overpower it. All we are doing is making mother angrier.

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