In another life, when I used to work as a bank manager, I had a client by the name of Rocky who was the President of the Craggy Mountain Line Railroad in Asheville, NC. Rocky had a long time dream to own and restore an authentic 1930’s New York City Subway car. Before I left the bank to pursue photography as a full time career, I was able to help Rocky get a loan so that when he found a subway car, he would be able to purchase it on the spot. When I left I told him to remember me and call me when he got one because I would love to take pictures of it before he restored it. About six months after I left the bank I got an excited phone call from Rocky who was finally able to get his hands on true to life NYC subway car in Florida of all places! I wasted no time getting out to see Rocky and his new project!
The American Car & Foundry Co built subway car no. 983 in 1935. The car is more than 60 feet long and weighs just under 84,000 pounds. The car was taken out of service in 1975. In 1977 the New York City Subway car was sitting in a junkyard near Coney Island when an owner of the “Nichols’ Alley Disco Club” in Florida found it and decided to use the old car as the ‘storefront’ to his club. He commissioned a crane operator who loaded it on a flatbed and cruised down I95 from NYC to Florida with “Wide Load” signs adorning the rusty exterior.
Historical Image by Ron Bereman http://www.metrojacksonville.com/article/2010-jan-springfield-subway-car-mystery-solved
Historical Image by Ron Bereman http://www.metrojacksonville.com/article/2010-jan-springfield-subway-car-mystery-solved
Historical Image by Ron Bereman http://www.metrojacksonville.com/article/2010-jan-springfield-subway-car-mystery-solved
Nichols’ Alley operated clubs in Atlanta, Orlando, and Gainesville before its largest club opened in Jacksonville, FL. The 983 car was literally inserted into the front of the club where patrons would enter and purchase tickets at the front in the conductors booth, then walk further down the car (and into the dance club), exiting the passenger doors on either side out into the 2600 square foot neon lit disco.
When the club went out of business around 1982, the owner had the subway car moved to a vacant lot that he owned. His plan was to use it as a meeting place for a women’s club that his wife attended, but due to neighbor’s complaints the idea fell through.
For thirty years the subway car slowly rusted away, half forgotten near Jacksonville, FL. When early in 2013, after several years of looking, Rocky’s wishes came true when a friend told him about the car and Rocky was able to purchase it and transport it to the Craggy Mountain Railroad Line in Woodfin NC (Just outside Asheville). Over the next year, Rocky and his team of volunteers will be tasked with an extraordinary feat of overhauling the subway car and bringing it back to life with the goal of actually operating and running it again on the three and half mile stretch of railway they own.
The car’s current condition is “pretty rough”. That’s a technical term that I use, meaning most of the floors are rusted out, doors are broken or jammed, parts and wiring have been stripped out, etc. But the structural foundation is still solid, and with a lot of TLC and blood sweat and tears, Rocky and his team will have it back to new in no time! I plan on visiting them from time to time over the yar to check on progress and take some reference photos as the work on restoring the car. I will be sure to add those images to the blog when I do!
If you are in the Western NC are be sure to check out Craggy Mountain Line Railroad! They offer a super location for family fun, events, and offer rides to the groups that attend. Please contact them to schedule a group event, they are very reasonably priced!
111 North Woodfin Avenue
Asheville, North Carolina 28805
Craggy Mountain Line Railroad is a Non-Profit Organization which owns and operates the last three miles of the historic Craggy Mountain Line in Woodfin, North Carolina, working to make the rails open for the public to ride.
Formed in 2001, Craggy Mountain Line Inc. owns a 3.45 rail line in Woodfin, North Carolina which they are repairing and restoring historical trains and trolleys to operate on the rails for visitors to experience. Craggy Mountain Line is restoring a 5 car train with 2 trolleys-one an original Asheville trolley, two cabooses, and an engine. Though still under construction, the organization’s plan is to have a depot for visitors to purchase tickets to ride the rails, have a meal at the restaurant, and explore railroad memorabilia from museum artifacts about the railroad. For more information on the line, restoration work on the cars and history of the line, visit our website!
***Please note: We had direct permission from the owner to shoot here. This location is private property. Do not attempt to visit or access this site. I cannot provide any information regarding access or info of the owners. Thank you ***
Perched on the Mississippi bluff with the trolley line at its front door the Tennessee brewery was at one point the largest brewery in the South. With more than 1500 workers producing more than 250,000 barrels per year, the Tennessee Brewery was a titan in the beer making industry. When prohibition hit, operations shut down, but resumed afterwards producing the best known leading beer in Memphis called “Goldcrest”. The building which was erected in 1890 is basically unchanged today. The brewery officially closed in 1954. The current owners (who gave us permission to shoot there) purchased it a few years before the 2008 market crash in order to keep it from being torn down. They are holding on it hoping that someone will make an offer to renovate or restore it as a mixed use building
The brewery has other claims to fame beyond beer. A few scenes from “Walk the Line” were actually filmed inside. Memphis Paranormal Investigations have investigated overnight about 12 times and claim it is one of the most haunted buildings in Tennessee. During our 8 hour daytime shoot however we never felt any unease or heard anything other than the trolley out front coming by every 20 minutes on its circuit. That being said… I’m not sure I would like to spend the night there.
What really struck me as we entered the building was the massive open center shaft of the building which was adorned with beautiful metal worked railings. The windows mostly covered up with a semi-opaque corrugated plastic offered warm pleasing light to the enter the spaces.
As we walked around and explored all the twists and turns and hidden rooms of the seven story building we quickly realized that nothing was left inside, just empty rooms with interesting architecture. This presented a challenge for me as a photographer because many of the images that I take have a ‘human element’ that helps draw the viewer and place them in the scene. Instead I tried to capture the magnitude of the building and the beautiful decaying architecture all around me. I hope you enjoy the imagery:
For years now, countless people have asked me “Do you have any pictures of old abandoned vintage cars?” and my answer has been sadly, “No”. So when a friend and fellow photographer Rich Nicoloff of ‘Photography From the Journey’ told me about a junkyard of over 4000 old cars out in the woods, I jumped on the opportunity. After driving for over three and a half hours I really hoping that it would be wort it, but when we pulled in and started to walk around I knew we had made the right call!
Most of the time when I am photographing old buildings and locations, I try to tell the story of the location and create a ‘sense of place’, but while I was at the graveyard I really wanted to focus on the details and the parts. So I left my ultra wide angle lens in my bag for most of the day and oped to capture the old emblems and details of these beautiful old vehicles quietly rusting away out in the woods.
NOTICE: The Majestic is an actively owned property and will be undergoing renovation. Do not attempt to go inside, it is actively patrolled by both law enforcement and private security agencies. We had special consideration from the owners to be here.
Hot Springs Arkansas has a rich history. Built around the natural underground springs the bath houses and spas attract people from all over the country. In the early 1900’s major league teams would bring their players here to get the players in shape for the coming season, and even the likes of Babe Ruth frequented the hotels including The Majestic. Since the end of the civil war, Hot Springs had become a favorite destination of Gangsters who would come to enjoy illegal gambling, and take a break from their lives of crime. Most notably, Al Capone would stay at the Arlington Hotel, just down the road from the Majestic where one of his most hated rivals Bugs Moran would stay. It was an unspoken agreement that while in Hot Springs everything else got left behind and didn’t spill over into this oasis of rest and relaxation. The story of the Majestic Hotel situated in the heart of historic Hot Springs begins in 1876, “when the Avenue Hotel was built just north of where the Majestic now stands. In 1888, the Avenue’s name was changed to The Majestic Hotel before the structure was removed in 1902. A larger, five-story brick building took its place, and this is the yellow brick section that still stands on the east end of the hotel property.” “The 1963 addition of the Lanai Tower brought the Majestic’s guest room total to 400. But the hotel’s heyday couldn’t last forever. Despite more updates and additions to the Majestic over the years, the shutdown of illegal gambling in 1964 took a toll on the popularity of the Majestic and other Hot Springs hotels. The Majestic underwent further renovations through the ‘80s and ‘90s, but nothing seemed to attract the crowds that had flocked to the hotel during its glory days. As the Majestic entered the 21st century, its days were numbered.” “But nostalgia couldn’t prevent the inevitable. The announcement of the hotel’s closing came on Oct. 13, 2006, in the (Hot Springs) Sentinel-Record. Monty Scott, president of Southwest Hotels Inc., which had owned the Majestic since 1929, blamed the Majestic’s demise on the fact that casino gaming was available in states surrounding Arkansas, effectively drawing gaming tourists away from the state. After doing business in three different centuries, the Majestic would close on Oct. 22, 2006.” (Source: Arkansas Life)
People often ask: “ How do you find these old abandoned places?” My answer is “It Depends”. Often it takes quite a bit of research, a little luck, and making the right contacts. When it came to the Majestic Hotel however, I had a little help from an extremely kind stranger. I ‘met’ Dee while playing words with friends on my phone. We played for many months and after a bit of in game conversations she found out I was a photographer and came to admire my work. She had just moved to Hot Springs Arkansas and had been telling me that I should come there to shoot the old historic bath houses and spas. So when my good friend Casey and I planned our epic photo road trip we made Hot Springs a major stop on our trip. While we were planning the logistics of the trip, Dee worked for weeks making phone calls to the owners, tracking down the nice people like the architect who is working on plans for renovation of the hotel, and eventually she had secured us legal access and a key to the front door! She even took it a step further and set up a speaking engagement for me at the “Fine Art Center of Hot Springs” where I gave an hour long presentation of my work and had some of my pieces displayed in their gallery. We met up with Dee bright and early out front of the Majestic. The old vintage signs still adorned the tops of the buildings.
The skeleton remains of what once was a luxurious awning stood bare like protruding ribs.
We unlocked the front door and stepped into the old hotel lobby. The front desk stood littered with debris.
Near the front desk stood a vintage rusted out fan.
In the center of the lobby stood a beautiful ornate vintage fountain, it’s tiles dusty and longing for the natural spring water to flow over them once again.
At the far end of the lobby was the entrance to the Veranda Room. A once upscale dining area softly lit by the afternoon sun shining through the tattered and falling curtains. We explored back into the dark kitchen behind the restaurant.
Heading back to the lobby we ventured towards the other side of the hotel and quickly discovered the old ice cream parlor.
Further down the building we ran into “Grady’s Grill” which was complete with an old rusty deep fryer in the kitchen and sad drooping ceiling fans in the dining area.
Not far from Grady’s was the Spa area. Two sections, one for men, and one for women. This was where the spring water was once pumped in. When the water reaches the surface it can be as hot as 140 degrees creating natural saunas for the spa clients.
We wandered around the ground floor some more and then headed out to the center courtyard and the old round swimming pools. The entire complex wraps around the courtyard 360 degrees.
We started heading to the upper levels and worked out way up to the rooftop.
When we reached the roof, we were standing directly behind the huge letters that we had seen from the street below. From the tenth story we had a beautiful view of downtown Hot Springs.
My best friend Casey hanging out under the Majestic Signage.
Me, gazing off into the distance of Hot Springs.
We found a roof access door that led us into one of the wings of the penthouse suites. Some of the rooms were still in very good condition. Each room had a sliding door with balcony access. The old wood balcony had rotted away in spots and the boards were very soft.
My friend Casey shot a video of me squeamishly venturing out to get a shot of the Majestic sign. Given that below the balcony was 10 stories of freefall I was more than a little nervous as the old boards moved and gave slightly below my feet. Afterwards I was weak-kneed for about 10 minutes! As we explored some of the rooms near the rear of the complex we found a ground level room that had massive overgrowth of vines through the windows and slowly taking over the room!
We spent the remaining time wandering around hotel, poking our heads into dark corners. There was so much to see in the massive buildings and we probably only covered about half of it in the 8 hours we shot there.
According to the Architect, David French, who is overseeing the proposed renovations, they plan to start remodeling in the coming months. The idea is to have apartments for disabled people, and possibly reopen some of the old storefronts attached to the hotel. Who knows, maybe next time I visit Hot Springs they will have brought the Majestic Hotel back to life!
The more I travel and explore historic, abandoned, vintage, and forgotten places, I learn everything revolves around the adventure, the experience, the journey… My recent road trip from North Carolina to New York was no exception. The first leg of my journey took me to Philadelphia, PA where I was to meet up with fellow photographers A.D. Wheeler and Lou Quattrini. I set out from Hendersonville, NC at the crack of 9:15am and made my way up. My iPhone decided that a simple straightforward trip would not be in my best interest and routed me through the heart of DC during 5pm rush hour traffic. It could have just kept me on I95 North but instead it took me on a wild goose chase through traffic jams, road accidents, through the slums of Baltimore and then slapped me right back on I95. The three hour detour allowed for a late arrival to my hotel at around 10:30pm. After checking in I discovered that my right rear tire was completely flat… So after hauling my bags up to the dingy hotel room I was staying in I called AAA hoping they could patch the tire for me. As I waited for them to arrive I listened to a couple screaming obscenities at each other and throwing things in the room next to me and considered calling the cops but after about 10 minutes the fight ended in silence and I simply figured one of them had killed the other and took solace in the fact that maybe now I might have a peaceful night’s sleep (I’m kidding of course )
AAA arrived a few minutes before midnight and informed me that my tire was so damaged from the object that I hit, that I would need to have it replaced. He put on the doughnut for me as I googled directions to the nearest tire shop. Luckily there was one just 4 blocks away that opened at 8am. Back in my hotel room I all but passed out after the long and crazy day of travel.
My iPhone alarm roused me at 7am and I begrudgingly pulled myself out of bed, showered, and gathered my gear into the car. Before I checked out I used my pass for a free breakfast and a nice Jamaican gentleman directed my to the breakfast buffet and gestured to the food explaining that I could help myself to “All this cool stuff over here!” So I loaded my plate up with bacon, sausage, some hash browns, and a cup of yogurt and plopped down at a table. A minute later the same guy ran over angry about something. He explains that the free breakfast pass was only for the COLD items… Oops!
So after stealing my hot breakfast I dropped my car at the tire shop and one of the mechanics gave me a lift over to Eastern State Penitentiary. I was the first person there at 9:40am and followed the girl in as she unlocked the prison for business.
Eastern State “was operational from 1829 until 1971. The penitentiary refined the revolutionary system of separate incarceration…which emphasized principles of reform rather than punishment. Notorious criminals such as bank robber Willie Sutton and Al Capone were held inside its unique wagon wheel design. When the building was erected it was the largest and most expensive public structure ever constructed, quickly becoming a model for more than 300 prisons worldwide. The halls were designed to have the feel of a church.”
As I walked the long halls which radiated from a center hub like spokes on a wagon wheel, I truly got the feeling of walking though a crumbling sanctuary. If the high ceilings with arched skylights had sweeping frescos painted on them I would have sworn I was in a church. A church with iron bars and locking doors on the end caps of the pews!
“The Quakers were the moving force behind construction of the prison, and they wrote that the exterior appearance should be “a cheerless blank indicative of the misery which awaits the unhappy being who enters.”
“During the previous thirty-five years, the reform-minded Quakers tirelessly lobbied the Pennsylvania legislature to build a prison based on the idea of reform through solitude and reflection. The Quakers hopefully and naively assumed that an inmate’s conscience, given enough time alone, would make him penitent (hence the new word, ‘penitentiary’). “
“Some believe that the (cell) doors were so small so as to force the prisoners to bow while entering their cell. This design is related to penance and ties to the religious inspiration of the prison. The cells were made of concrete with a single glass skylight, representing the “Eye of God”, hinting to the prisoners that God was always watching them. Outside the cell, there was an individual area for exercise, enclosed by high walls so prisoners couldn’t communicate. Each exercise time for each prisoner was synchronized so no two prisoners next to each other would be out at the same time. Prisoners were allowed to garden and even keep pets in their exercise yards. When prisoners left the cell, a guard would accompany them and wrap a hood over their heads to prevent them from being recognized by other prisoners.”
Each cell had accommodations that were advanced for their time, which included a faucet with running water over a flush toilet, as well as curved pipes along part of one wall which served as central heating during the winter months where hot water would be run through the pipes to keep the cells reasonably heated. The toilets were remotely flushed twice a week by the guards of the cellblock. Other than a bed inmates had only a copy of the bible to keep them company. The exception to this rule was Al Capone’s cell:
The Famous Barber Chair:
Cell block 15 aka “Death Row” housed some of the most violent inmates in the Pennsylvania prison system. The building was the only one as Eastern State that had electronic door locks. The inmates were only housed here, none of the executions actually took place at Eastern State.
Over the years only about 100 prisoners managed to escape, most were recaptured but one man Leo Callahan managed to escape completely.
I walled the long halls imagining what life must have been like in a place like this. It was around 85 degrees outside but inside with no air moving it was stifling and muggy. I can’t imagine what life must have been like for prisoners during the heat of the summer… Although given some of the horrors that took place at Eastern State in the form of punishments for the prisoners, I’m sure that a hot summer day was the least of their concerns.
Distant murmurs of other visitors quietly echoed around the halls like detached voices of ghosts of old prisoners giving a flicker of life to the quietly decaying cells.
The amazing thing about Eastern State was that they kept the majority of the facility in a decayed state. They had done and were doing many repairs but they left the crumbling rocks in the cells and piles of dust and dirt as the were. It was a very odd feeling exploring this place as I am used to exploring locations like these with no one else around. One minute I’d feel completely alone and then next a tour group would pass by talking and laughing. It was a strange juxtaposition for me!
After a long day of shooting from 10am-4pm we called it quits and the three of us debriefed at Luigi’s Pizza a few blocks down the road and scarfed down slice after slice of delicious Neapolitan pizza. I picked up my car which now was outfitted with 4 brand new tires and hit the road for the four hour drive from Philly to Elmira, NY. Day one of my road trip was in the bag! I had memory cards full of images, and a head full of stories and history from Eastern State Penitentiary. I could not have been happier!
“The thing that fascinated me about the castle is that everybody thinks that it’s haunted, that people were locked up in the courtyards…None of its true. What did strike me as very unusual is from the time that I’m able to record; no one has ever been able to live on that land. That struck me as bizarre.” – Dr. Joyce Conroy – Historian
When I first heard about an abandoned castle in upstate NY I all but booked my plane ticket before even researching it! The prospect of exploring a castle deep in the overgrown woods of NY was irresistible. I started researching and making phone calls, and in doing so made contact with a local historian who had done extensive research on the castle and its history. Her name was Dr. Joyce Conroy and she not only provided us with useful information, she also gave us a 35 minute interview in person, and also gave us copies of historical images of the castle for us to you in our write up and video. Here is some of what we learned from her:
Before the castle was constructed, a small hunting lodge called the “Beaverkill Lodge” was built on the almost 1000 acre plot of land. This was built by Bradford Lee Gilbert in the late 1880’s. Gilbert frequented the lodge only once or twice a year and only for a few days at a time. When Ralph Werts Dundas bought the land in 1915, he constructed the castle on and around the original lodge and then expanded it out from that.
Gothic windows, turrets, towers, and steep parapeted roofs are just a few of the beautiful architectural features that make the castle an amazing oddity to find hiding in the woods. R. W. Dundas was a bit of a recluse but he had money, and dreams of being a Scottish laird. He was married and had a child. His wife was very emotionally disabled, and his daughter was taken care of by a number of nannies. They visited the site while construction of the castle was going on but they never lived there for any length of time. A great deal of money was spent on the inside of the castle. Electricity and steam radiators were installed in almost every room, an incredible luxury at the time. In addition to marble floors and countertops, and porcelain tiles, there were also reports of a gold leafed fireplace in one of the rooms.
However in 1921, before the castle could be completed Dundas died, leaving a reported fortune to his wife and daughter. Unfortunately, after his death, his wife was then taken to a sanitarium due to her existing mental illness. The daughter was suddenly extremely wealthy and in need of a guardian. The castle caretakers who were watching over the daughter, basically robbed her blind. She went on to get married and eventually headed over to England with her husband on an expedition to find “St. John’s Gold”. The expedition fell apart when eventually they fired the historians and scientists helping in the search, and hired a dowser/mystic with a willow wand. At this point the daughter’s mental health was called into question and she was subsequently placed in a sanatorium in England. The castle changed hands a few times over the years and is now owned by the Prince Hall Mason’s.
I flew up to NY and met up with fellow photographer A. D. Wheeler, and his colleague Jon. We set out on our first day of exploration with the castle set in our sights. We made the trip from Elmira to the site of the castle without knowing much about how to get in or even its exact location. We neared the castle and after a few miles of unmarked back roads we spotted one of the towers of the castle up on a hill buried deep in the woods and overgrowth. After parking our car and gathering our gear, we trudged up a steep ravine and into a clearing which revealed the outer bulwarks of the castle. It’s gothic windows and ‘witch’s hat’ spires that adorned its towers loomed through the trees and immediately hinted at the mystery and fantastical stories that this location might hold.
We quickly ducked in under a beautiful stone archway and into the sprawling courtyard. We all stood in awe of what we were seeing. It was like being transported back to medieval times, as if somewhere in the woods we stepped into Narnia without knowing it. I quickly checked my back to see if any talking beavers or goat-men named Mr. Tumnus were sneaking up on me!
After taking in the awe-inspiring architecture of the inner courtyard we ducked into the first open doorway we saw, and found ourselves in the kitchen of the castle. Tiled floors and marble window sills surrounded us. Every window and door we encountered was beautifully peaked, and every corner we rounded and room we entered spoke of mystery and an untold history.
It was a strange juxtaposition to be exploring the hallways and rooms of what one would imagine to be a castle out of the dark ages and then notice an old push button switch on the walls which was once used to turn on the electric lights. It was like a modern day fairytale gone wrong. I felt like Alice going through the rabbit hole discovering crazy distorted visions of reality that immediately clashed with my senses and perception of what should and should not be.
The majority of rooms were completely cleared out of anything that would have resembled human habitation . The only vestiges that remained were bathroom fixtures, and electric heaters, which only furthered the surrealistic perception that what appeared to be something from the dark ages was still indeed a modern ruin.
We explored all three main levels of the castle, poking our heads into every room, and even ventured down into the depths of the blackened basement. We spent hours peering into abandoned rooms and speculating on the stories and history that the castle held.
A few days later we had the honor of speaking with local historian Dr. Conroy who donated her time to give us a full interview and history lesson regarding the castle. There are very few websites dedicated to this location and many of them contain historical information that is not entirely accurate. We were able to talk with Dr. Conroy to uncover what was myth and what was factual. She was very generous and donated a number of digital scans of old historic photos of the castle.
The Mason’s Castle was an incredible location and a true gem of American history. Please note that due to the fact that the land is actively owned I am unable to disclose the exact location of the castle or provide any information regarding gaining entry. Please do not attempt to visit this location, as it would be considered trespassing. I hope you enjoy the photography and the history!
The Airplane Grave Yard was demolished in an unceremonious fashion on 05/11/2011 A metal scrapping company was hired to destroy the lot of 8 planes that inhabited a quiet plot of land just outside St. Augustine, FL. The current owner listed the property for sale and had the planes demolished and removed.
This is very sad for me as a photographer. These planes were a staple of the landscape, the giant tail fins and cockpits looming from the side of the highway for upwards of 30 years. For locals, the landscape has permanently changed. The once watchful guardians of highway 1 have been relieved of their post with no further standing orders. From a personal standpoint I feel like I have lost quite a few of my dear friends. As funny as that may sound, these eight planes represented much more to me than a decaying hunk of metal in an overgrown plot of land. They had spirit, character, history, and countless stories to tell. The maintenance dates stamped onto their fuselages told a great history of service to the United States. Whether they were used in warfare for tracking of submarines and reconnaissance missions, or whether they were used for domestic purposes such as fighting off wild fires, there are countless pilots out there that could tell you incredible stories of the missions these planes flew.
The planes were housed on this plot of land specifically for scrap, the owner selling off pieces of equipment to be used for newer planes as needed. As the years went by nature began to take her toll. Vines grew up into the cockpits, propellers, and other vital pieces of machinery were removed and sold for reuse as the planes silently slumbered in the field.
The times I visited them became a turning point in my art. I was just getting into Urban Exploration, and photographing abandoned decaying locations. After seeing the sheer beauty that the Airplane Graveyard held, I was completely head over heels in love with the idea of finding and exploring many more locations of its type. These planes embodied everything that I was fascinated with; the juxtaposition of man-made vs. nature, the joy of finding beauty in uncommon places, the oddity of discovering such a unique location hidden in plain sight of us all. The sheer beauty of ‘Nature’s reclamation’ was all around us at the Airplane Grave Yard.
I remember exploring all eight planes climbing into and examining each unique cockpit. Some had vines growing up through them, some had broken windshields, some had a strange lichen growing on the glass that resembled blood, but none the less, each one of them was unique, amazing, and full of life even in its decaying state.
I guess all in all I spent about 18 intimate hours with the planes over multiple visits. It’s an indescribable feeling sitting inside something like this; listening to the dead leaves rustle around in the breeze, looking at the old bundles of copper wires hanging from the ceiling like vines in a jungle, reading old signs and warnings, and advisories printed onto the rusted metal. I guess you just begin to picture the people that flew these planes, and their lives, experiences, and stories. When you start to envision the glory and excitement of what used to be, and combine that with the saddening decay of what remains, you begin to form a bond. It is something that is hard to put into words. Something that when you watch the video of these beautiful machines being ripped apart, begins to have the same effect on you.
It’s hard to describe the feeling and emotion I felt while watching the video of the ‘removal’ of the planes. For me it was like watching a friend getting beaten to a pulp and then disemboweled for the world to see. I understand the company that was hired to demolish the planes, performed the task in the manner in which was most efficient, but to watch the video of the planes being rocked back and forth and gutted was just too much for me.
After years of looking at these pictures and sharing them with countless people who had flown these planes, it is much more than witnessing a piece of machinery being demolished. This was the loss of a group of dear friends. With this demolition, I further recognize the importance of what I, and many other photographers strive do; that capturing of the images of such locations goes far beyond the desire to portray the “beauty of decay”. It also grows out of the need to share the history, spirit, and the stories that these artifacts of history stand for.
So farewell to the war machines of the Airplane Graveyard. You will be missed. But your legacy and that of the heroic pilots who flew your missions will live on.
Recently, I was offered a very unique exploration opportunity. I was invited by “Photographer’s for Historic Preservation” to travel to Maryland and shoot an abandoned Silk Mill. A select group of photographers from all over the country were invited to legally shoot this location in exchange for donating to the owner to help preserve and repair his building. The silk mill was in operation from 1907-1957. Construction of the Mill was begun in 1905. Initially, silk was imported from Japan and China and the factory produced silk thread. During World War II, rayon was made. In the 1920s the payroll included over 300 people, but in later years fewer than 200 worked there, and by the 1950s antiquated machines in a small mill made competition with larger facilities difficult. In 1957 the mill closed. Since its closure, the owner has done his best to keep the building intact, but nature and vandals have taken their toll.
I invited fellow photogs, Andy Wheeler and Jared Kay, to come along. Andy traveled from New York and Jared and I made the 8 hour drive from Asheville NC.
We arrived and met the owner, who told us of the struggles he had faced over the years keeping the building up physically and financially. Recently someone broke in and stole thousands of dollars of materials from the location. Leaking roofs, broken windows, and buckling floor boards needed to be fixed, to name just a few of the countless maintenance issues. We made our donation and entered the building.
The massive three story brick structure welcomed us into its former office where we were greeted by our first piece of history; a vintage fire extinguisher.
This strange hand grenade looking phial on the wall was filled with carbon tetrachloride, a chemical compound used in early fire extinguishers. If a fire broke out you hurled it at the fire and it would (hopefully) extinguish it. These types of fire extinguishers were discontinued due to the hazardous effects of the chemicals on the human body.
Stepping out of the tiny office room and into a vast workspace, we were treated to our first jaw dropping sight: hundreds of rows of silk spinning looms.
It was overwhelming. There’s no other word for it. It took a moment to get over the magnitude of what we were seeing. Then we scrambled to get out our cameras and start shooting!
It was hard to miss the bright red buckets hanging from the end of each row of looms, which had FIRE stamped on them in bold black lettering. This was a reminder of how far back in history we were stepping.
On the end of each row were a faded grimy tag and a label. We learned that each employee was responsible for a different row and they would tag their row (and the finished silk spools) with their label which had their employee number stamped on it.
The next sight, that quickly became commonplace, was the hundreds of thousands of bobbins that were still sitting in the machines, on the floors, on racks, and in decaying cardboard boxes.
It was apropos that everywhere I looked were thousands of little spindles, each resembling the core of a film canister that would have been used to wrap film from a camera. The catch line for the day was “These Bobbins are Dirty!” which became a running joke between Jared and me (such as, the two of us leaving a note to housekeeping in the hotel we stayed at complaining about the dirty bobbins in our room) But I digress…
As we walked around we wondered at the amazing relics of Americana the building still held. It was like time stood still here. The mill management had simply shut down the machinery leaving behind everything as it stood the moment they closed and locked the doors.
Vintage posters advertising workers compensation laws or safe driving habits were found in dusty corners.
A lunch menu advertising a local eatery was found defaced on the wall.
Even a dusty romance novel had been left behind!
And my personal favorite was a tattered old calendar featuring a picture by Norman Rockwell for the Boy Scouts. I found the old poster hanging face down against the wall in the basement. It wrinkled, bent and torn, but it was a beautiful sight.
The second floor held more looms, but they were taller and looked much different from the first floor ones. Some of them looked more like torture devices than manufacturing devices.
More pieces of history and Americana were strewn about on the second floor.
After about 3 hours we finally ventured down to the basement through a dark stairwell encased in peeling paint.
Still more treasures were to be found in the darkened depths of the mill.
An old scale loomed in the corner.
Vintage newspapers lay in a stack of boxes nearby.
Old labels from Japan which were once included in shipments of silk were found on an old work bench.
Another one of my favorite finds was an old empty oil barrel, ironically labeled with the words “Gulf Harmony Oil”! Many more looms, and vestiges of the mill haunted the darkened basement.
Jared and I spent some more time talking with the owner as we wrapped things up. (Andy had left earlier.) We thanked him profusely for allowing us legal access to his property for the sake of preservation and art. After 5 hours of shooting, we packed our things back into our car (including our complimentary “Dirty Bobbins”!!!) and bade farewell to the Silk Mill.
“The Adler Hotel was a 150-room, five-story hotel in Sharon Springs, New York that was operated from 1929 until 2004. Known for its therapeutic sulfur baths, it catered primarily to a Jewish clientele who travelled to Sharon Springs in the summers. Ed Koch (congressman and former mayor of NY) worked as a busboy at the hotel in 1946.” Over the last few years a company has purchased the location with plans to renovate it, but lack of recent news/plans may indicate that the renovation has been put on hold for reasons unknown. -From Wikipedia
The Adler Hotel was the fourth and final location that we traveled to on our week long Urban Exploration trip in July 2010. Some last minute research by my brother yielded this gem of a location. We drove almost three hours from Elmira to Sharon Springs and had no problem finding the Old hotel on Adler Drive. We parked and walked up to the hotel and made our way in.
The lobby had three beautiful sets of double doors with a windowed arch above each. The drapes softened the afternoon light that streamed through boarded up front doors.
The front desk held many interesting relics from years past. An old switchboard that once routed calls for the hotel still had patch cords running everywhere and listings for local businesses that had long since closed their doors.
The main lobby divided the ground floor in half and separated the entertainment and the dining side of the hotel. The entertainment wing had a small game room with a few old puzzles and board games scattered around the floor.
The main room on this side of the building was a small theater complete with an old curtained stage which was home to the bulk of the hotel’s old chairs.
On the opposite side of the building was a very large dining room and kitchen area.
We started to make our way up to the second floor and the guest rooms. The rooms were an unbelievable sight to behold. Every room had wallpaper and decorations from the 60’s and 70’s. The various designs of wallpaper in each room always were unique and quite humorous. Some had brightly colored garish designs, others had a silver reflective surface that was almost mirror like. Whoever was the wall paper supplier for Sharon Springs must have had a hay day installing all these wacky designs.
Another thing that none of the rooms lacked was a vintage telephone. Most were jet black and only dialed the front desk’s switchboard; a few in the larger rooms had options when dialing out.
Quite a few factors came together to make the Alder a fantastic place to shoot. The color coordination of the room’s carpet, sheets and bedding, and wall
paper, and the obviously recent use of many of the rooms by squatters and homeless. People who had used these rooms recently had taken the blankets and hung them up over the windows (presumably for privacy and also to keep out drafts in the winter). So in an already green themed room, the sun streaming diffusely through a heavy green blanket, made for magical color tones and light in the scene.
We continued through each room in the hotel, some rooms appeared more inhabited than others. We worked our way up floor by floor. It was in the upper 90’s, one of the hottest days of the year so when we arrived at the top floor the temperature became unbearable and we back tracked down the stairs.
To see the images from our FIRST trip to Grossinger’s CLICK HERE
Day three of the 2010 Urban Exploration trip: Return to Grossinger’s Abandoned Resort in Liberty NY.
In October of 2009 my fellowArtByDecay.com photog Andy and I had visited the abandoned Grossinger’s Resort (you can readthe original photo-blog here). The haunting beauty of a bygone age echoed from every crumbling room and we were dying to go back and revisit the location armed with flashlights and walkie talkies. This time around my brother Will and friend Dave joined us for the abandoned goodness.
Last year the golf course was fairly desolate because of cold October temperatures, and sneaking in was not a problem. This time in July the golf course was in full swing (pun intended). We opted to simply park on the back road and enter from the side. Slipping in undetected always gets a sigh of relief.
We headed for the outdoor pool first and presented to Will and Dave their first taste of the massive abandoned glory that Grossinger’s has to offer. It was a balmy 97 degrees and exhaustion from the previous two days of exploring was catching up with me so I didn’t take any serious pictures of the pool while we cooked under the summer sun.
We walked around the complex then entered through a side entrance that we had not used last time. We found what might have been a large lobby at one point. The room now held only a scattering of random detritus. On the far side a grand staircase made its way up to a second floor balcony.
We photographed this room and a few side rooms before continuing deeper into the building.
We passed a bank of elevators filled with debris. We walked up a small set of stairs and came out to the infamous (in my mind) “Bar Stool Room”. I took a few shots but didn’t think I could outdo my work from October:
Armed with a flashlight I felt braver than before and pushed further into the building in the direction of the indoor pool. I had only gone about 50 feet when my flashlight beam revealed a fog of humidity and particulates in the air. It was so dense that I was concerned about even removing my camera from the bag. Andy cautioned us to put our masks on as a precaution. As we walked around we realized we were actually below the massive indoor swimming pool. This area at one point was a spa. Directly below the deep end of the pool was a cracked and grimy glass window that looked into the swimming pool. In the adjacent rooms were a shower and changing area for the guests, and a locker room. The giant white shower curtains with the signature Grossinger’s “G” just begged to be taken for souvenirs, but our credo of leaving things untouched and unharmed resonated in my mind, and I opted for a silly portrait to remember instead!
The remnants of a salon complete with vintage hair drying chairs stood haphazardly in a dark corner of the particulate clouded sub-level. This area was completely devoid of outside windows was almost pitch black. We set up and shot long exposures of 15+ seconds and ‘light painted’ the chairs with LED flashlights to get the desired effect. It was an interesting photographic experience shooting a subject that we could barely see, while wearing masks, in potentially hazardous environment. We shot for about 10 minutes until we got the right combination of shutter speed and light from the flashlights. Will and I took the opportunity to get some atypical portraits of ourselves sitting in the antique chairs.
Walt Above, Will Below
After 30 minutes in the Grossinger’s underground we headed up the stairs to the indoor pool. Grossinger’s pool is truly a sight to see. Even after our first visit, the indoor pool took our breath away. There is something about the massive space of the area that makes everything feel vast yet confined at the same time. Strangely, I felt a sense of intimacy when in such a large enclosed and derelict space that is hard to describe. We spent a good 45 minutes shooting, composing, and yelling, asking if we were in each other’s frames as we shot. It was a feast of a scene and we devoured it!
We headed back out and around the building the way we came in then continued around to the far side. We passed an entrance to a portion of the complex where I remembered a nasty prank that Andy had played on me during our last visit. Now that my younger brother was with us, I figured it would be a perfect time to play a mean ‘older brother’ prank on him! As we neared the entrance I stopped and acted excited saying “Oh! Will, you HAVE to step inside that entrance and look into the room to your left, you won’t believe what you see in there!” Given that it had been more than 10 years since I had played prank on him, he naively obliged and walked about 5 steps into the darkened entrance. As soon as he was fully inside the building, I picked up a medium sized rock, and hurled it through a broken window a few feet to his left! The rock nicked a shard of broken glass still hanging loosely in the window and made a beautifully loud and scary bang followed by the shattered glass clanking to the ground. Will bolted from the hotel, eyes wide and saying words that I can’t mention here! Dave, Andy, and I were cracking up and he soon realized that the joke was on him. I laughed even harder since Andy had done the exact same thing to me during our first visit!
Since the golf course was open we didn’t want to risk being seen by walking out near the road. We were headed to the one location that we had not visited the first time around; the ice skating rink. We crossed through the gigantic dining room. (We had thought this room was the ballroom but a reader of my first blog who had worked at Grossinger’s for many years corrected our assumptions.)
We left the dining room and walked up the steep embankment towards the old wooden building next to the ice rink. As we approached it, we could easily see just how bad of shape it was in. A back door hung from its hinges but we pushed our way through and into the building. The wooden floor boards had rotted away over the years. The floor was very soft and we stepped gingerly. At one point my foot actually broke through the floor. The room was lined with old benches that were shedding beautiful flaking paint in bright red and yellow colors. A large old sign read “North American Invitational Barrel Jumping”. Mosquitoes and high temperatures drove us back out into the hot summer air after 15 minutes.
We left the ice rink and went back through the old dining room. As we reentered the dining room, we noticed a gap in the ceiling that permitted a very thin beam of late afternoon light to enter the darkened space. The beam shone brightly through the dust and debris hanging in the air and made for a beautiful shot.
One of the members of our team (I will withhold names) happened to have a pack of cigarettes on them and we took advantage of the opportunity to make an interesting artistic shot with the wafts of smoke flowing through the light beam.
We walked back to the car and bid a fond farewell to the “Titanic” of Urban Exploration. The return to Grossinger’s did not disappoint and we captured some new scenes as well as re-shot some of our favorites parts of the resort in a different season. Even in the killing heat of summer, Grossinger’s was alive in spirit. Countless ghosts, memories, and stories lurked around every decaying corner of the complex. Hopefully the images captured here will spark your own memories or conjure up stories even if you have never been to Grossinger’s.
The Scranton Lace Company’s operations spanned two centuries of American history, ending production in 2002.
During its heyday in the early 20th century, Scranton Lace employed over 1,400 people and was the world’s largest producer of Nottingham lace. It had bowling alleys, a gymnasium, a barber, a fully staffed infirmary, and owned its own coal mine and cotton field.
Founded in 1897 in Scranton, PA, the company used looms that were made in Nottingham, England, stood nearly three stories tall and 50 feet long, weighing over 20 tons. During World War II, the company expanded its production line to include mosquito and camouflage netting, bomb parachutes, and tarpaulins. After the war, the company returned to producing cotton yarn, vinyl shower curtains, and textile laminates for umbrellas, patio furniture, and pool liners.
In recent years, the number of employees dwindled to around 50, with annual sales averaging $6 million. As mechanized looms replace manual, Scranton Lace joined the ranks of craft-style textile manufacturers in shutting their doors. – From: http://www.scripophily.net/sclacucope.html
We woke up the day after exploring the St. Nicholas coal breaker, still sore, tired and picking coal dust from between our toes. Will, Andy and myself hopped in the SUV, and headed down to Scranton, PA.
Andy had done a drive-by of a few weeks back and noticed video cameras around the building and a few posted warning signs, so we weren’t entirely sure of what to expect. A fellow photographer had given us some access tips so we were relying on that information.
The neighborhoods surrounding the Lace Company buildings didn’t seem too bad. We circled the massive buildings twice before parking on the street. Gear in hand, we trekked along the side of a large building that spanned at least two city blocks. We followed our access instructions and slipped into the complex undetected (or so we thought).
The complex consists primarily of two massive buildings, side by side, with a long ‘courtyard’ running between them. The total footprint of the buildings were over 288,000 square feet! The courtyard was quite overgrown and we waded through waist high weeds as we searched for an entry point into the buildings. We passed old loading docks, and walked under large enclosed walkways that connected the two buildings from the second floor.
We came upon a old wooden door and found it unlocked. We entered a large room filled with the old looms we had read about. These giant, black, two story machines lined the room and were dimly lit by a bank of grime covered windows. Most of the looms still had lace threads strung and ready to run. One in particular actually had clean, white, half-woven lace still sitting in the machine! It felt like they had simply shut down one day, closed the doors, and never came back.
I climbed one of the ladders onto the second level of the looms, stood atop wooden planks and stared down the line of machinery . From there I could see thousands of threads running through the loom were organized by huge sheets of punch cards riddled with small holes for the needles to pass through. It was an amazing sight to see.
Along the side wall, thousands of sheets of card stock hung from a massive rack. It reminded me of a vintage mainframe computer, holding massive amounts of binary data. On or off… Hole or no hole… Either the needle falls through the hole or it is blocked by the card, and after hundreds of lines of ‘code’, a pattern is made. After a moment of study, I could detect patterns in the sequence and arrangement of the holes, indicating the repeating pattern of the fabric they once would have woven.
After shooting the loom room, we ventured out into the rest of the building. We made our way through a labyrinth of windowless hallways, poking our flashlights into dark rubble filled corners. We came to a massive two story warehouse. As we entered the room we heard distant echoes of murmuring voices. We froze and listened. The mumbled voices were above us! Slowly I walked out into the center of the room, my shoes crunching on the tiny shards of broken fluorescent light bulbs. Suddenly, an eruption of birds from the air ducts and rafters above us settled the mystery. The voices we heard were the muffled coos of doves that had made the old air vents their home. Our hearts slowly settled as we realized we were still alone.
The space was rich with details–wooden boxes stamped with the company emblem, old safety posters, even an R2-D2 robot-like machine! I noticed a VHS tape lying in a pile of junk. I flipped it over and found it was an instructional guide to the original Windows 3.1. The computer geek in me was greatly amused.
Finally we found a way up to the second floor. The paint on the walls and ceiling of the stairwell hung in sheeted tatters as if the walls were shedding brightly colored pages of a book.
First thing we encountered was the heat and we immediately started sweating. We came to a packing room. Conveyor lines on either side of the wall ran at least 70 yards to a stock room. At one end of the room we found a funny old sign that at one point used to light up depending on what production was traveling down the conveyor lines. We speculated as to whether the lace company actually supplied Wal-Mart with fabric or if it was a joke denoting the high quality production (black tie) versus the lower end production (Wal-Mart).
The supply room was filled with row after row of empty wooden racks. The heat in there was like a blast from a furnace compared to the rest of the second floor and was utterly unbearable.
I managed to stay in long enough to get this shot looking straight down the center of the racks. After just 2 minutes of standing there shooting this image the sweat was literally pouring out of my body as if I was in a sauna.
We continued wandering room to room shooting, all the while wondering where the famed bowling alley was located. We found one of the elevated walkways that we had walked under in the courtyard. We headed across and were faced with a choice to go up or down. We chose to go down knowing it would be cooler on the first floor.
The second building by comparison was not nearly as wide as the first but it was still a pretty big place. We explored the first floor but found no sign of the bowling alley or any other paths to take. We went back to the walkway stairs and up into the hotter second floor.
We came out in what at one time must have been an employee recreation area. A wide hallway filled with stacks of the coded punch cards presented itself to us.
With a touch of irony, the walls were covered with photographic wallpaper depicting a lush forest scene.
Directly off the hallway we discovered the gym/theater. A basketball court was filled with old personal-sized sewing machines and fabric. One end of the court had a large theater style curtain drawn across a small stage. Up and above the court on one side, were rows of movie theater style seating.
I walked down a small hallway behind the stage and discovered a kitchen. Large stoves, ovens, ranges, and pots and pans filled the room.
As I was shooting the kitchen I turned and noticed a beautiful scene that was picture perfect before me. The kitchen was lit by large banks of windows. Outside of the windows a flock of pigeons were roosting on the ledge. The lower windows were frosted so they could not see me. The silhouettes of the birds framed in the panes of the old windows and the warm diffuse glow from the colors outside, made for a lovely shot. I quietly called Andy and Will in to check out the scene.
As the three of us stood there shooting, a very loud, low, deep BOOM shook the building. We stared at each other, listening for follow up noises. It was hard to tell where the sound had come from but it had been very loud. We had felt it. A minute passes and we heard no other noises. We speculated that it may have been a large metal bay door slamming shot, or maybe someone lit a M80 somewhere nearby. It was the day after 4th of July after all. A little nerve wracked and startled from the explosion we continued on.
The room adjacent to the kitchen must have been the old cafeteria, but now was a repository for hundreds of waist high stacks of more of the punch cards used in the looms. It was staggering how many there were.
We found an old spider infested arm chair and had to get portraits of each of us. Notice the giddy look on my face. I’m like a kid in a candy store. A dark, dangerous, abandoned, spidery candy store.
We turned around after taking our portraits and…there it was… THE BOWLING ALLEY! A four lane bowling alley complete with pins and dozens of old bowling balls. Old score cards still littered the floor.
We had a blast shooting in the room, and before we left we actually each bowled a frame. I scored six, Will got seven, and Andy (the showoff…) rolled a strike! I blame my six on the fact that I was first to go and my ball cleared debris from the lane, allowing for my fellow photogs a cleaner roll!
We had been shooting for a solid 4 hours and at this point we were completely drenched in sweat. We decided to head back down and start to pack up. When we reached the old wooden door we had come in through we stopped in our tracks. It was propped wide open with a piece of wood. Our minds started racing, that boom we heard… there was definitely someone else here. We headed out into the court yard for a look but didn’t see anyone. We decided to shoot a few more shots of the outside of the building before we left.
It was at this point that our real fun started…
We exited the grounds and walked back onto the street running behind the building. We stopped on the sidewalk to take a few snapshots of the “Scranton Lace” sign on the old entrance.
As we were shooting the sign, a large black SUV cruised down the far end of the street. As it approached, it slowed to a crawl, almost stopping right next to us. Inside were two unfriendly-looking guys with shaved heads, and white tank tops on. They eyeballed us with intent. We took the hint and started walking back to where we had parked, about 150 yards away. As we walked off, they disappeared around the corner. We were about halfway to our car when they circled around the building a second time. Again they slowed down and glared at us as they passed. At this point we started getting nervous, jogged to the car. We agreed that we would just throw our gear in the trunk and high tail it out as fast a possible. No sooner had we reached the car and started pulling away, when the two thugs rounded the building a THIRD time… They fell in directly behind us and proceeded to follow us. We drove away from the building making several turns hoping to lose them. They tailed us for a few more miles until we reached the highway and then peeled off in a different direction as we got on the highway….
We all breathed a sigh of relief thinking that we had dodged a bullet (possibly literally!) It was at this point that I realized–I had lost my glasses! I knew I had them on me when I left the lace factory and now they were not in the car. They had to have fallen off during our flight from the factory. We turned around and headed back down the very road where we were just chased out of town. At our original parking spot, Will and I jumped out and began frantically searching. Andy kept the car running and drove along side us on the street. Thankfully, I spotted my glasses on the sidewalk about halfway back toward the factory. We jumped into the car and sped off! Laugh about it now, sure, but it was a pretty scary situation, and we felt very lucky to have gotten away without a confrontation.
All in all Scranton Lace was a fantastic location to shoot, and we had quite the adventure.
Mahanoy was settled in 1859 and was a major center of anthracite coal production. From Wikipedia: “The Old St. Nicholas Breaker, located just outside of Mahanoy City, was constructed in 1930 and began operating in 1932. Half of the village of Suffolk was relocated in order to create room for Reading Anthracite’s Old St. Nicholas Breaker, the largest coal breaker in the world. 20 miles of railroad track were laid, 3,800 tons of steel and more than 10,000 cubic yards of concrete were used. A mile and a half of conveyor lines, 25 miles of conduit, 26,241 square feet of rubber belting, 118 miles of wire and cable and 20 miles of pipe were installed. When the breaker was constructed it was divided into two sides. Each side could be operated independently, producing 12,500 tons of coal a day. Once the raw coal enters the production process within the breaker it took just 12 minutes to pass through the entire breaker. For 31 years, the Old St. Nicholas Breaker prepared all sizes of famous Reading Anthracite for the markets of the world.”
Fellow photographers, Will, Andy, Dave, and I set out to capture this massive structure on the 4th of July, 2010. From our base camp located in Elmira NY we drove 3 hours into the coal mining town of Mahanoy PA. The town was little more than one long main street lined with row houses. Each house had a ‘coal door’ located on the front where, at one time, coal was dumped down a chute into a basement bin then shoveled into the furnace to burn off the cold of the long winters.
We passed through town and easily located the monstrosity just outside the city limits. We parked and lugged our equipment and an ample supply of water out into the coal fields and down towards the ominous ten story structure. It was 96 degrees, and the coal blacked earth below our feet radiated the heat of the sun back towards us at an unbearable temperature.
The path we were on narrowed and suddenly came to an end. A small abandoned structure sat on the edge of a steep cliff. We were less than 50 yards from the coal breaker but due to the cliff in front of us and the heaping walls of coal and rocks on either side of the path, we were unable to go any further. We begrudgingly turned around and walked the half mile back to the car mumbling under our breath. We chose to walk back down the road we drove in on and just enter the building through the front. We would be wide open for anyone to see us, but we had no other choice. We were all drenched in sweat as we approached the building.
As we entered the first floor the temperature dropped and cool breeze breathed new life into us. The ground floor we entered on was just that… Bare earth, cracked, parched mud. Old machines and rows of windows lined either side of the massive ground floor we were on.
We manned our walkie talkies and flashlights and split up to explore the leviathan that awaited us. Will and I headed up a rusty staircase comprised of metal grating surrounded by decaying chunks of concrete. We carefully poked our heads into a few rooms on the lower levels before deciding to head straight up to the top and start from there.
We wound our way up six or seven floors on the stairwell, cut across a few rooms and made our way up more stairs to the tenth floor, all the while wondering how stable the staircases were. We gazed in awe at the remnants of the old machines on each floor. Massive gear wheels lay prone in the dust. Thousands of pounds of old dormant metal weighed heavily on each floor. Each ton of steel seemed to bide its time, awaiting the epic moment when its weight would collapse the exhausted floor beneath it, and come crashing down in a cascade of twisted metal and debris.
We finally made our way to the summit. The view from the top was breath-taking. We stared in awe out of the broken and shattered tenth story windows and witnessed a sprawling countryside comprised of mountains of carved, plundered land. Through broken shards of glass and rusted metal we could make out the silhouettes of old cranes, machinery, and abandoned coal buildings that dotted the overgrown landscape. Trees and underbrush had grown up over the mountains of coal and torn lands surrounding the breaker. The lush green landscape hid years of excavation and abuse.
We felt warm wind through the broken windows, and I took in the overwhelming scale of this structure with its thousands of tons of abandoned and derelict machinery.
A labyrinth of grated catwalks presented themselves, their integrity in question. We tested their strength, gingerly putting weight onto them and walking on the seemly more solid I-beams below them. Gaping holes in the grating dotted the passageways at every turn. We tried our best not to look down.
While exploring the accessible parts of the top floor, we located the primary conveyor belt that at one point carried the raw coal out of the mines far below, and into the top of the coal breaker for initial processing. The dark and broken shaft, seemed to go down into infinity. We peered out of broken windows to get a better view of the conveyor shaft and the incredible distance it traveled up from the subterranean mines below.
While on the tenth floor, I explored a very dark room with lockers and old breaker switches that at one time housed the primary electrical systems that ran the coal breakers.
We then began our slow decent back down the stairs stopping off at each floor along the way to explore and discover what decaying treasures it had in store for us.
In the center of one of the upper floors, we came across one of two central control units. These seven foot rectangular obelisks appeared to control many functions of the breaker. Old valves, dials, and gauges covered the face of the ominous structure which was conspicuously set apart in an open area, away from the other machines.
We continued our decent, level by level, amazed by new sights on each floor. The second floor contained many rooms of interest, and was filled with objects and items that gave a human element to the coal breaker. We found the old changing room where the miners would suit up for the work day. Rows of benches lined the room which still contained many old work boots from years past.
Another room on the second level was the old offices. Filing cabinets, flat files, books, ledgers dating back to the 60’s, and other remnants of the breaker’s day to day operations littered the rooms. Each faded piece of paper told a bit of the story of the massive undertaking it had to have been running an operation such as this.
After shooting the second floor we headed down to ground level and met back up with Andy and Dave. As if to satisfy our curiosity about how polluted such a place might be, we discovered a room near the center of the structure where beads of liquid mercury dotted the filthy floor. Some, the size of silver dollars, glimmered brightly in the afternoon sun that drifted in through the shattered windows. We speculated that the breaker had used Mercury Vapor Bulbs which were used for their bright white light. When the bulbs were broken the vaporized mercury condensed and collected on the floor.
In the same room as the mercury an old work bench with a circular saw caught my eye as the sun bent its rays around the rusted teeth of the ancient saw blade.
At this point we had been shooting for about three hours, so we agreed to pack up and head back to Mahanoy for a late lunch. We ate at a local pizza joint which appeared to be the only place open on a Sunday that was also a national holiday. After grubbing up and re-hydrating, we headed back to shoot some more of the building in the late afternoon and evening light.
We once again ventured through the building, shooting the endless number of scenes that lurked around every tetanus laden corner. After another few hours of sweat drenched exploring we exited back outside and took some exterior shots.
It was early evening and we were completely wiped out and exhausted from our shoot. We packed up our coal dust blackened equipment, and bid farewell to the hulking beast that is the St. Nicholas Coal Breaker.