Archive for April, 2013

Thanks for the Memories

There’s many levels of enjoyment in what we do. The satisfaction of getting the right shot, one that captures the sense of place, is probably foremost. There is also the exhilaration of finding a new site and simply being there; many of these places feel like a different planet, though they’re rarely more than an hour away. What is rarer, however, is finding a palpable sense of history. Sure, most places we visit are old, but in many cases signs of the people who lived or worked there have been wiped away by decay and/or vandalism. So imagine our delight when BentBottle and I found this school’s attic:




It had been used as the de facto living yearbook of the school for upwards of eighty years. Kids had been going in here and signing their name and class year with the implicit consent of the school, which could’ve painted over this any time they wanted.




The oldest one we found was ’23, the picture of which sadly did not come out well. This was a great “easter egg” find in a building that had quite a lot to offer as is. Pictures of the lower floors to come…

What is on the Outside

In reviewing my photo collections from the past 5 years I realized that while I take a lot of photos inside of a building, I rarely ever take photos from outside.

As I mentioned in my previous post I am working on a project, and it means I need exterior photos of all the places I go to, full documentation.  *sigh*  Still, it is good practice and who knows, I may be able to learn something in this exercise.


Methodist Church, exterior 3

The City United Methodist church is an imposing building, and if I had bothered to take photos from the outside in previous visits you would know what is so shocking about this view.


Methodist Curch, exterior 2

Not that long ago, maybe even less than a month, this lot was a grove of trees.  There was one giant, probably 80 or 90 years old, that sheltered the walk up.  It was surrounded by several younger trees that were probably ranging from about 40 and younger.  They are all gone.  I’m pretty pissed off about the giant tree in particular, and the grove in general.  Why are all the trees gone?  Because some 401(c)3 has decided that “god’s house” should be restored.  In a city brimming with “god’s houses”.

I can understand if this building was salvageable, but it isn’t.  The amount of money that it would take to rescue it from the decades of fire, neglect and vandals boggles my mind.  It isn’t even a particularity historic building, just an impressive church that is a tile in the mosaic of Gary history.

But no, they’re going to come in, clear out all the trees and, do what?  Shore up the building so it collapses a little slower?  Crazy glue the facade back together?  Chase all the vandals away?  I don’t know and I cannot find any information online regarding any one’s plans for it.  I seriously doubt the building will be closed to urban explorers as we are a persistent lot.  While my little group has a policy of no breaking and entering, if someone else broke in and left a door or window open, we’re not adverse to taking advantage of that.  In the case of  this building, the doors are all wide open or gone and there are even holes in the walls (in more than one place) for people to creep through should they feel so inclined.


Methodist Church, Exterior 1


In the end we do not know what this mystery group has planned for the most iconic urban exploring location in Gary, we’re just going to have to wait and see.  Our group visits at least once yearly just to see how things have changed and while we’ve already done a visit this year we are going to keep an eye on the place to see what transpires.  In the meantime here are some photos from  the years past.  I’ll miss be able use the trees as a backdrop for drag queens.


Gary Drag 2 11








I plan things.  Most of the time I am willing to just along with whatever, but when I get an idea or have a mission, I plan things.

I had Sunday all mapped out, we were going to be hitting several locations and I wanted to explore a building or two that looked promising on Google Maps.  I changed my mind, changed it again, and settled into an idea of what my day was going to be.  Then, opportunity arose.

My day ended up going nothing like planned, and we never made it to the building I wanted to see.  I couldn’t be happier.  I still managed to get almost all the photos I needed for my project, and then some.

St John Hospital 2

I have so many photos I’m not even sure where to start, planning fail.

St John Hospital Triple Arch

I have a little project going on the side which I will be telling all of you about soon, but for now I’ll just say that there was a reason I needed to see St. John’s Hospital from more than one angle.  St. John Hospital

Tree Swallows on the River

Before Illinois was hit with the spring monsoon that put every waterway into the highest flood stages seen in a very long time, Tabula Rasa and I found ourselves sitting on the banks of the Fox River, mesmerized by the flock of tree swallows dancing over the surface.

It wasn’t a great day for attempting to take photos of very small, fast moving, twitchy birds.  The heavy rain clouds over head only dropped a little drizzle on us, but it sure did take away the light.

4 13 13 632

These birds are fast, and it took me a few minutes to get used to their pattern of flight.  In the end I think I walked away with a couple of decent shots, considering I only had my wide angle zoom lens with me.  I had not anticipated attempting a bird photo shoot on this trip.



4 13 13 607


fly away


4 13 13 449


I think the geese got a little jealous of all the attention the swallows were getting, and had to show them up by proving they could walk on water.    takeoff


It would seem that spring is indeed actually here, the crocus do not lie.



Already we’ve spotted a few brave mallards who have returned to claim the best nesting spots in the area.



In some cases, they are still looking for their lady loves, so band together in little bachelor groups.

3 drakes


The geese never leave, they are shocked, shocked I say! At the new arrivals.




goose charge


Something we don’t get to see often in Chicago is the little shop downtown that has been around forever, and carved out a niche (sometimes literally) among the giant office buildings. So it was a bit jarring to see these two shops which look like their heyday was during the Nixon administration still open and thriving(?) in their respective city centers. I just wish I was in the market for either a haircut or a guitar at the time I came across them; it would’ve felt good to support them with a couple bucks.

Tooley's Barber Shop, Peoria, IL

Tooley’s Barber Shop, Peoria, IL

Ziegler Music, Aurora, IL

Ziegler Music, Aurora, IL

Eye of the Beholder

Though I realize that most of my shots fall into the rather well-worn niche of “urban decay” (“ruinporn” if you’re inclined to be less genteel), I still feel I have to justify myself at times, especially to friends and acquaintances. There is a perception among some that what we do is misguided at best, dangerous and juvenile at worst. Don’t fear, this is not the preamble to some righteous rant. Rather, I present the following and ask the reader to decide whether there is beauty there, regardless of subject matter.



In Living Color

In Living Color

In Living Color II

In Living Color II

Gears and Gangways

Gears and Gangways

The Silence of the Power Plant


4 14 13 125_6_7_tonemapped

door 1

In Silence II

I’m stealing from and adding onto the Idiot Photographer’s previous post, as it captures in words what I think we look for on film (so to speak).





Some say prayers, I say mine.

In Silence


We never explore alone, but we find our best moments in the silence and contemplation of our environment.



boiler room





Blood From a Stone

As the Idiot Photographer told you in her last post, we traveled quite a bit last weekend. Aside from a pleasant jaunt through the woods that some freedom-haters have termed “getting lost”, we had a great time. Sunday in particular was fun, as we had a couple relative newbies to introduce to the joys of running around deserted industrial sites. I wasn’t too optimistic about getting many good shots, however; we were hitting the power plant and granary, two buildings pretty well covered by myself and IP. So it was a pleasant surprise to come home and find some decent raw material on the memory card. The first shot is a redo of a previous shot, done this time in HDR.




Here is the east end of the granary, where the crumbling building gives way to the surrounding trees.




Black and white is a bit of a guilty pleasure for me. I overused it early on, and now I try to use it only when I really think it makes the picture better.  I hope these shots benefited from the indulgence.

Lost in the Woods

I could title this post “How Tabula Rasa Led Us All Astray (sort of)”, but I won’t.

This past weekend was a bit crazy for me.   On Saturday Tabula Rasa and I went out and had a full day of wandering with no buildings explored, not for lack of trying.  We just found ourselves in a place with a few good buildings that were locked up and impossible to explore.  In the end we ended up at Morton Arboretum, but this is not that story.

Sunday we had made plans for a larger than usual group (as in more than 3 of us), Tabula Rasa, BentBottle and I were going to take some friends to a couple of our favorite locations to show them around.  We ended up off in the southwest suburbs looking for a graveyard.  In a forest preserve.

The Bachelor’s Grove graveyard is one of those popular local “haunted” places, mainly by virtue of being really old by American standards and being located in a slightly creepy part of the woods.  Literally.  Tabula Rasa knew where Bachelor’s Grove Woods were, and being the human GPS that he is we trusted him to lead us to the graveyard with few problems.  We struck out on the trail with more than a bit of excitement and enjoying the early spring song of frogs.  In retrospect that was probably our first clue that we were not where we thought we were.

4 14 13 201

we’re on an adventure!

Soon enough we came to end of the trail.  It was not a graveyard though.  Instead we found the home of the frogs that had been serenading us all along our way down our rather short walk.  We were faced a choice, do we go back down the trail and see if we can find another way around to the graveyard that we think is there, or do we strike out off the trail and walk around the pond to see if we can find it?


Hey guys, I have an idea. Why don’t we just walk through the shallow pond?

I freely confess that I agreed we should try walking around it, and I was the tie-breaker vote.  Silly me.  Tabula Rasa broke out his magical technological device known as a “cell phone” and loaded up the GPS, you know, so we wouldn’t get lost.

We quickly found a game trail that, as game trails do, quickly petered out into nothing.  We found ourselves slogging through mud and shallow flooded prairie and I discovered that my previously waterproof shoes had developed a leak sometime over the winter.  As we squished our way around the pond we realized that (as the city folk we are) none of us really had any idea of what direction we were headed in.  We could hear the sound of far off traffic from our right, but that was it.

At this point I decided if I was going to be stomping around the woods in the early spring I had better find something interesting to photograph.  We had kind of spread out and everyone was taking a slightly different path, just keeping Tabula Rasa in sight and following his general direction.  Our merry little band of adventurers was rapidly turning into a sweating and overheating band of mildly concerned doubters.


Bound together, when one falls so does the other.

We found ourselves back on the edge of the pond, and decided to take a bit of breather so our fearless leader could explain to us that he thought he had found the graveyard on the GPS, we just needed to head off in “this” direction.  Jo took the time to show us all up and conquer a tree while we tried to revive ourselves.


During our little break I noticed something odd about the moss of the fallen trees around us.  It seemed, shaggier, than regular moss.


invasion of the seedlings.

At some point I began thinking we were living in a post-apocalyptic world searching for the bastion of humanity.  We bravely headed off in the direction indicated to us by the person with the magical direction-finding device, acquiring new bruises in the process.  (The largest of my bruises is amusingly bird shaped.  And hurts.  A lot.)


Onward, through the radioactive wasteland. over hill, over dale, and down the yellow brick road. if we can find it.

Then we found the parking lot and drove the mile to the part of the forest preserve where the graveyard was actually located.   Tabula Rasa, being the person that he is, was immensely proud of himself for leading us ALL THE WAY AROUND THE POND and back to the parking lot.   I, being the person I am, mentioned that he had bothered to consult his magical technological device BEFORE we headed out we would not have to walk around the pond.

I did neglect to mention that perhaps I had really enjoyed our little adventure in the woods, and would like to do it again someday, but I did imply it.

Agora, or the Inhumanity of Crowds.

If Man is looked at as a molecule, then forces analogous to temperature and pressure can shape Him into various phases. A small commune or tradition-bound village can be likened to a crystal: rigid, but stable and harmonious. Life in great urban centers is closer to a liquid: the particles stream and flow, creating turbulence and vortexes, but also capable of spreading wide and fast. What, then, is a crowd?



A crowd is like the superheated plasma in which atoms break down into component quarks to which the old rules no longer apply. Crowds are treated as localized epidemics of insanity; even a placid parade merits police on horseback. Perhaps it is some primordial instinct to return to the Collective, but people can quickly give up much autonomy and reason when in the crowd. No wonder, then, that some find large groups of people terrifying.




Agora is an art installation at the south end of Chicago’s Grant Park. Its 106 massive steel torsos mill about, loosely clustering together. A walk through this site captures that dread discussed above. Even non-agoraphobes can get a taste of the disorder if they lose themselves to reverie amongst these figures.





Agora in the Day

I’ve previously visited and photographed Agora at night.  They are that collection of headless, armless hollow metal people wandering the south west end of Grant Park in Chicago.  It is by far one of my favorite installations of public art, it is huge, it is weird, it is immersive.

This kid was just passing through and snuck into my photo.4 13 13 045

A few are wandering way from the center of density.

4 13 13 063

Given the variable light and semi-dramatic clouds, I just couldn’t resist a HDR shot.


Current Events

I know, I know, it has been too long.  I’ve been a little busy, ya know?

We did a little running around in Chicago, stopped in to say hello to Agora.

4 13 13 080

Spent some time at the Fox River watching the tree swallows dance over the water.

4 13 13 632

Went for a hike in the woods looking for something that was in a very different part of the woods.

4 14 13 201

We also mixed in a little urban exploring, took some friends to the granary and power plant.

Things will be a pretty mixed bag the next few weeks.  I’ve got urbex photos and really bad bird pictures, as well as some general silliness to share.  But first, I must edit!  Oh, and make sure I filed my taxes.  See ya all soon!

St Mary Mercy, again

Sorry things have been so slow around here everyone, I haven’t much opportunity to go out exploring as of late.  Our last trip was cancelled as Tabula Rasa was feeling under the weather but he is feeling better now and this Sunday we have plans to go poking around the old granary again.  My last trip there I was a little rushed and didn’t get to explore past the 6th floor.

So we’re going to head back to St. Mary Mercy for today’s post.  This is another location I would love to explore again.


On the first trip through a new building it is so easy to just keep going and see what is in the next room, down the hall or around the corner.  It is easy to miss a room or even whole hallways, so you tell yourself “We’ll go back for another round.”  As I mentioned in a previous post this doesn’t always work out very well since things can change quite abruptly in the space of a week or month.


St Mary is interesting since, like so many hospitals, it had grown over the years.  You could very clearly tell what portions of it were the original building from the 1920’s and which parts were tacked on later.  This stairway is from the oldest part of the building, and were in better shape than some of the new portions.


This is also from the oldest part of the building, and makes me wonder why I can’t have radiators like this in my apartment.


Alien Trees

Chicago, I think we need to have a little sit down with a therapist.  You’re weird, deeply weird.  This time, you may have gone too far.

painted trees

Those poor trees, what did they ever do to you to deserve this?


Just because you thought joggers needed something colorful to look at during the drear winter months.  How about they watch their footing rather than looking up at an impossibly orange tree?

orange tree


When I first started taking photos on these trips it was just documentation.  This is what I saw, this is where I went.  As a result I have a load of odd photos that I like but would never frame.  I’ve since shifted my purpose to attempting to be a little more artistic and trying some storytelling, but some part me just cannot resist ugly wallpaper.

Wallpaper may have fallen out of favor as home decor goes, but at the time Gary saw half its population run away in the white flight it was the height of fashion.   I have proof.

Red velvet-ish and satin-ish wall paper?  Oh yes please!

wp red

Not all wall paper remains on the wall where it started.

wp falle n

Sometimes there is only a little scrap left to hint at what the room used to look like.

wp scrap

But often you find whole walls of it.  Shiny, shiny, metallic wallpaper.  Drugs had to be involved in the choosing of this paper.wp metallic


Some time back I had mentioned metallic Navajo paper.  I wasn’t kidding.

 wp naavajo

Other people tried to be a little more upscale, a little classical.  Of course, they also neglected to line the paper up.  What room did this wall paper end up in?  Just guess.

w p nekkid

But so far my absolute favorite ugly wallpaper was actually found hiding in the deep, dark basement of the Methodist Church.  Orange and brown roses. With daisies.

wp roses

Empty seats

I take a lot of photos of empty seats.  I’m not just talking about place like sofa hell either, it just seems everywhere I go I find some empty seats that have a tale to tell.

Sure, we’ve seen more than a few forgotten churches with empty rows of pews in them.

point of light

But it really doesn’t get old.  You read the story in how the pews are left behind, in jumbles, in heaps, shuffled to the back or just left as they were.


Then there is the mind blowing oddball chair that has sat beneath a stalactite for so long it has formed a stalagmite on it.

Limestone Accretions

The limestone actually glitters a little in the light, which is what caught my eye in the first place.  Otherwise I would have walked past this poor chair in its dark dungeon and dismissed it as just another mold infested relic.

In a place almost devoid of things left behind there remains a stool.  In the hall.  Just sitting in a patch of sunlight.

Yellow Stool


Then, there is the truly forgotten.   the lost chair


After the Party

Post Party



Angela Deals