Archive for January, 2013


Defunct Power Plant

Defunct Power Plant

This is a short series on a great find of ours, a coal power plant in Chicago’s south suburbs. This HDR on this shot is a bit dodgy, but it captures the presence of the place. It’ll have to do until I can reshoot it.




The interior is a smorgasbord of light, shape and texture. There are rich colors too, all in that slightly-faded-old-industry-color palette.




As one climbs higher, one has to make judgement calls about the relative safety of successive paths. I didn’t take this one.


Top Floor

Top Floor

At the top of the plant, at the end of a queasy climb, is this giant room. No idea what purpose the rails served, but if one was to fall through them, it was a fifty foot drop down into a huge vat.

Domestic Discontent- Apartmentalized

Apartment living, if only the neighbors upstairs would turn that music down.


The saddest little kitchen.

empty cupboard

Someone really loved coffee.

coffee lover

There is no door, only the memory of one.

door gone


122nd and Burley

122nd and Burley

A shot to illustrate the above. The loneliest intersection within city limits, a picture of which the Idiot Photographer has already shared with you. One could sleep in the middle of this road and not worry about being run over for days. If you can relate to the singular kind of thrill we got when we stumbled upon this, you’re definitely getting the vibe of what we’re after.


Spilled Belt

Spilled Belt

It’s apparent that our particular interest lies in urban decay. This is a short apologia for what is perhaps merely a trend in aesthetics, photography in particular.
Our lives are easy. And safe. One can get in a car and drive two whole days in any direction (from Chicago, anyway) and count on the same network of stores, restaurants, and cell coverage everywhere. This is nice, but boring. People seek out the little diners, the mom n’ pop stores, to get away from McDonald’s and WalMarts. To get to what they think is authentic.
The photography analogue is urban exploration. Chicago’s skyline is beautiful, and rightly famous. It’s also there for the taking, photographically speaking. But finding the sights few see is a thrill in itself. If I’m to cultivate an art, shouldn’t there be some toil to it? Some exploration, some dirt, some pain and some risk? In our case, some chance of arrest?
I’m not fetishizing rust or industry, I’m not goth. I know beauty exists and can be sought anywhere and everywhere one cares to look. So it’s in the pursuit of a more elusive quarry that my passions lie.


Television of the Damned

Television of the Damned

A trip into St. John’s Hospital, a defunct black-only facility in Gary, Indiana, yielded this find. I picked this as an introductory photo because it was the first time I got good results with HDR, which seemed a huge breakthrough when you’re doing a lot of shots in dim light in abandoned buildings.

Introducing Tabula Rasa

on the fence

I’ve always been a shutterbug but I never took learning photography seriously until I began urban exploring.  I would have never begun urban exploring if Tabula Rasa hadn’t taken me to Gary Indiana and shown me the apartment building we call “House of Harm”.

We’ve been exploring abandoned places and playing with cameras for something like 7 or 8 years now so I think it is time we share a blog.  I’ve invited him on post his photos and stories which I think you will all enjoy, he is a far better writer than I at any rate.  His first post should be up sometime today, make him feel welcome.

Inside the Unhaunted

Inside the school at last.  Well talk about not living up to expectations, there is pretty much nothing here other than the lowest factor of graffiti, black ice and empty room.

boys school9


The top floor still had some walls standing, it looks like it used to be the dormitory.

boys school11


Downstairs was nothing special either, another big empty room totally devoid of artistic graffiti; at this point I am seriously missing the high quality Gary graffiti.


boys school2


Through the whole of the inside, there was only moment that wowed me.  It was not due to any deliberate action of the spray paint wielding hooligans either.  It was just the convergence of colors on what was otherwise just another drab abandoned stairwell.

boys school10



One of the more amusing parts of the “haunted” school was the warnings spray painted at the entrances, just so you know that you’re entering someplace “dangerous”.

First you have some one attempting to, bless(?) the place, I suppose.  It is hard to tell what they meant by this piece of graffiti really.   Then someone else came along with their commentary; I kind of hope that by the time we visit this next there will be a counter commentary.


Inside you get this, though the stories say it is haunted, not cursed.

boys school12

Up at the main entrance someone passingly familiar with Dante had this to say:

boys school8

I seriously doubt that this in an entrance to hell though.

You may also notice the paintball splashes in this shot, seems while this place is “haunted” it has also been used as a Halloween haunted house and a paintball court.


Unhaunted Ruins

The remaining building at the boy’s school appears to be the dorm, but there are signs there were once other buildings too.

Well, it was an outbuilding at some point.

boys school rubble


Most of the auditorium seems to have burned down, but the stage remains.

boys school auditorium

Well, what was possibly the rest rooms remain as well.

boys school5

Though of course, there may be a wall missing here and there.

boys school6


The other day Tabula Rasa, his son and I took a little trip through the town of Hammond, Indiana.  We weren’t intending to stop and try shooting a photo of the BP plant, but we both saw something we liked and stopped to give it a try.  We were there for maybe 2 minutes before security had our car surround and was questioning us.

This is why I prefer urban exploring, at least if security or the police are talking to you they have actual cause and it isn’t just to intimidate and harass you.  Either way Tabula Rasa took the reins and stayed much politer than I would have and the security guards told us about a purportedly haunted school in Cedar Lake Indiana.  Curiosity got the better of us and we decided to abandon our plans for Gary and go farther afield than usual.

The school itself is behind a locked gate and hidden behind about an acre of mature oak trees, since we were in the hinterlands people would notice if we just left our car on the street and we were not so far into the hinterlands that there wasn’t any traffic at all.  We drove around a bit and finally found a nice out of the way place to park that also got us far closer to the building than we had hoped to park.

Walking through the woods and rubble of destroyed outbuildings Tabula Rasa’s son commented “This is getting a little Blair Witch.”  And he was right.  It was a bright, sunny winter morning and the place had a definite air of the creeps about it.

boys school1


We did a quick walk around to the front and then decided to just go inside.  After a through explore we did a longer walk around and decided that this building was best appreciated from outside.  It appears to hold a lot of promise, until you go inside.

boys school4

It is most definitely not haunted.  Local lore holds that the priest in charge of the school went crazy one night and murdered a bunch of his students, afterwards the school was closed.  In reality there is no evidence at all for a grisly murder spree (come on people, it was 1977 or thereabouts, there would be newspaper reports on this kind of thing, national reports!) and the fact is the school went broke, had a nice little closing party for the students and everyone went home safe, sound and unmurdered.

But that isn’t an exciting story to tell your friends when you are 14 and trespassing in the dead of night to go poking around an abandoned school.   What amazing me the most is that the people who told us that this is a haunted place were adults my age and they never thought to question the ghost story!

I am a realistic person.  I don’t believe in ghosts, ghouls, afterlife, spirits or hauntings.  I do believe in the power of suggestion, that somethings have yet to be explained well and the mind’s ability to fool us into seeing things that are not there.   I wanted to go to a “haunted” place because places like that usually have an aesthetic that our minds link to the feeling of creepy or disquiet feeling that I like and want to capture in a photo.

boys school3

This is somewhat detracted from by the laziest and most unimaginative graffiti I have ever seen.

Summer Playground

I wish it would just be winter already.  But why complain?  Instead let us pretend we are all in the southern hemisphere and it really is summer!

This was one of those weird playgrounds that is somewhat maintained, but you have to wonder how often it is used by anyone.

empty slide

Yes, that is indeed an abandoned building behind it.  One that we would love to get into but it is sealed up tight with the doors welded or riveted shut and security cameras on it.

rocket weeds

I wonder where mission control is?

jet star

Within Defined Limits


Chicago is a big city and most people imagine it is just full of goings on at all hours.  Sure every city has an empty lot or abandoned warehouses and generally neglected industrial areas but I suspect we managed to find the most desolate intersection within Chicago city limits on a recent trip.

I’m not kidding.

chicago WNL

Seriously, this is well within city limits.

chicago post apocalypse

We walked around here for a good half hour or so, just left the car sitting in the middle of the street.  No one noticed.  The whole time you couldn’t even hear any traffic, or trains, or anything but the faint hum of the power station when you were near it.

chicago RRx

Heck, we even saw deer.

chicago wildlife

The Industrial Way

We do a lot driving through industrial areas, not often stopping.  But sometimes you see something that stops you in your tracks.

Like the Cline Avenue bridge.

cline ave


Then you suddenly realize that the power lines for this neighborhood are not your standard lines.

heavy power

On the other side you have a veritable industrial wonderland of bridges.



As well as an uneasy reminder that all those puffy white steam clouds aren’t just steam.

12 30 12 027


We’ve got plans to go back to this one on a not so grey day, perhaps in the spring so the trees are just starting to put out leaves.   You see, this is one of those rare outdoor places  that kind of snuck up on us.

greyhound depot

This is the old Gary Greyhound depot; nature has turned it into a garden sculpture of trees and metal.

support tree

Running right along behind it?  A disused train track.


dead end

Bonus Kitten Post

This is yo6u 9999999999999+++++++

. . . Cat, get off the keyboard.

AHEM  This is your Sunday bonus post, it has been a while since I have done two things, a to-for post and a kitten post.  So here we go.

I mentioned a couple of months ago that my companion of nearly 14 years, Xerxes, passed away after being diagnosed with carcinoma of the intestine that had metastasized to his liver.   He was just a week away from his 14th birthday, which just happened to my birthday as well.

I got Xerxes from a co-worker back in the days of when I was a carriage driver, he was the son of Cersie, child of inbreeding (ewww) and the only kitten in his litter.  He was always a bit of klutz and not the brightest bulb in the box but he more than made up for it with his sweet, gentle nature and tolerance of whatever may come his way.  I had always wanted a tabby cat, but since my mother raised persian cats I was never allowed to have one.

Xerxes was everything I had ever wanted in a cat, more importantly he and Callista were my constant companions, even when we were all homeless together for the better part of a year.


I had very little time between diagnosis and deciding to let him go peacefully after realizing that he had been suffering quietly for several months.  I miss him very much.

Callista made it to her 14th birthday and continues to hold court without her friend.  I had initially adopted her with the idea that Xerxes would be happier with a companion since I was often away from home for 16 hours or more a day.  She misses him, and spent a week looking for him after I came home with an empty carrier.

I had no plans for adopting another cat, after all I have 3 cats and a dog already sharing my home.  While 3 cats a crazy cat person does not make 4 is kinda pushing it, right?  This is a lesson in the dangers of working in the field of veterinary medicine.

A client who is a feral cat colony caretaker brought in a kitten from the most recent litter of kittens produced by the one female cat that is too smart to trap.  The rest of his siblings had been trapped, neutered and returned to the colony, but this little guy wasn’t healthy enough to even neuter.  He was half the weight of his siblings, often drooled and when ever he ate he would gag on his food and spit it back out.  She was flummoxed as to what to do with him as she already had 5 indoor cats and 1 indoor/outdoor semi-feral living in her house.

I’m a sucker.  I took one look at the emaciated and terrified little kitten and decided I would take him in to give him the best life he could he have, even knowing that it is bound to be tragically short.

When he first came to me he was terrified of being handled by people, he was feral after all.  He would cower at the back of the crate when I brought him is food or took his litter pan to clean it.  I spend some time sitting by his cage playing the other cats so he could get used to me and in less than a week he blossomed into a shy but no longer feral kitten.  We ran some basic tests at work to try to figure out is wrong with him, and so far as we can tell he has pharyngeal dysphagia brought on by nerve deficits  which causes the gagging.  He also had a couple of parasites on top of the malnutrition he was suffering from not being able to eat much in one sitting.

On top of this he isn’t the smartest kitten I’ve ever met.  He is actually probably the slowest.  His body is not proportioned properly as his head is oversized and he has a very short neck, on top his scrawny body he looks a little comical.  His right eye is kind of droopy, probably related to the before mentioned nerve deficits and at 6 months old he has yet to weigh in over 3 pounds.   His tail has a couple of odd little kinks in it, and the very tip is flat no matter how I try to puff it out into a normal tail.

A month and a half later the out look for him is a little brighter, while he isn’t growing like a normal kitten he is active, playful and eating much better.   The doctors and I suspect that he may possibly have some form of dwarfism, and will never get much bigger than he is now.  We ran a couple of simple tests to check for the most common causes but they came back negative.  Is it because he was malnourished for the first 4 or so months of his life?  Possibly.  Does he have some other congenital defect lurking unseen?  Probably.

No matter what, he has a home here.

My adult cats took him in a fairly predictable manner, Callista hates him (as she hates everything), Jasio is his big brother and The Niblet goes between resenting him and resenting how nice he is.  Honestly.  He has no clue.

The nice thing about Callista hating him is that in his mentally deficient world she pretty much doesn’t exist.   His mother and most of his siblings were all black and white and he imprinted very strongly on black and white cats, to the point where he utterly ignores Callista.  This is just how she likes it.

On the other hand he saw Jasio and immediately ran up to him, purring and headbutting like he was greeting a long-lost brother.  Jasio was a little put off by this at first but now they are fast friends.

hector and jasio cuddle

Seriously, how am I supposed to make the bed in the morning when they are snuggled like this?

jasio and hector bath time

Oh stop being so damn cute together!

The Niblet, on the other hand, is annoyed that there is a new cat in the house.  She mostly puts up with him because no matter how many times she slaps him down he always comes back with purrs for her.   I rarely catch her grooming him, but often find them snuggling, albeit a little reluctantly.

niblet and hector small

While at first he was terrified of Kiska, he has come to realize she is a valuable source of warmth in the winter time.

hector and kiska nap time

So I give you Hector, the newest addition to my home, who isn’t nearly as evil as he looks in this picture.



These will be the last of the school pictures until our next trip, we’re not sure when that will be but I am hoping soon.

I’m not sure who ripped out all the lockers in the school, but only a few of them were left behind.  If they didn’t get tagged then they were abused, badly.

edison hall lockers


My best guess is that this was a display case for the art class, while they took out all the desks and chairs they left behind the fire extinguisher and it was pressed into service as a glass-breaking object.

edison broken case

Phys. Ed.

One of the more interesting aspects of the school was that part of it dated back to the 150’s (or so we guessed) and then expanded by more than half sometime in the 1970s or 1980s.  As a result it had redundant gyms, the first was basically an extremely small basketball court, the second what most people think of as a high school gym with a full sized court and giant bleachers on either side.  I found the little gym first, but will share the bigger one first.


At some point someone found all the lunch trays and brought them into the gym, I have no idea why.  The entire floor was covered in broken heavy-duty dishes from the lunch room, some one had a dish smashing party and I hadn’t been invited.



I’ve actually already shared two photos from this area previously,  you may remember seeing Yosemite Sam in the background next to some graffiti.  Well, Betty Boop, Tweety Bird an a few others make appearances here too.

betty boop


Remember how much fun it was to pull out the folding bleachers?  I tried but every lot of them was stuck in folded position, except this set which was half pulled out.



Kids being the little vandals that they are when unsupervised had some fun bashing out the glass backboard to the main basketball hoops.  Though I must admit, I too love the sound of things breaking; it is just that now that I am older I have feelings of guilt attached to that sound.



I’ll just leave you to ponder this one on your own.

edison home ec in gym


Now back to the little gym.  It was a pretty cool room, and also the place where I got spooked by the something in the ceiling.  At first I thought I was hear Tabula Rasa thumping around on the roof, but then I realized it was much, much closer to me than that.  I’m not really afraid of raccoons or opossum, but the thought of one falling through the ceiling onto my head was enough to get me to move on out.

Did I mention they turned it into a storage area?  For books.

edison book storage


I found religion, and straws.   Left it where it was as it was.  I think this sums it up for me.

religion and straws


Not Empty

Sometimes I am a little baffled by what gets left behind when a building is abandoned.  Machinery that, before it rusted, could be worth hundreds of not thousands in scrap metal is be found in factories.  Furniture, clothes, dishes, flatware and sometimes personal memorabilia can be found in homes.

In this school they took almost everything, but left behind no less than 2 pianos.   I think there is a third in the basement.



Yet the janitor’s room was cleared of everything but for the metal shelves.



Meanwhile the basement is full of text books, office supplies and (oddly enough) christmas decorations.

book escape


Still, they sealed the empty classrooms shut.

go to class

Cant Tell Me Nuthin

Can’t tell me to go to school, they locked the doors.

edison exterior door


Can’t tell me to get the file, they emptied all the drawers.



Can’t tell me to watch the play, the actors are gone.

forgotten stage


Can’t tell me march in the band, the uniforms are destroyed.


Can’t tell me to go upstairs, there is no upstairs.

edison roof access


Can’t tell me to leave, there is no exit.



You can’t tell me nuthin, I been to collage.  But not college.

cant tell me

Graffiti in School

On a recent trip to Cedar Lake I came to realize that I have high standards for graffiti both in content and artistic representation.   Most of what I see in Gary is involved, detailed and actually artistic to some level, even when it is just tagging.   Of course, there are exceptions to this.

pay me


But even when you can’t read it you can appreciate the level of effort someone put into it.



There was only one small section of hallway where lockers remained, and this was the area that got hit by taggers the most.



Some decided that the stairwells offered the best canvas for their work.

graffiti stairs


Still others made a patriotic display.graffiti and flag


In other places it gave a even more surreal feel to an already odd situation.

trophies and sam