Transitioning into liminal space (stormdog) wrote in abandonedplaces,
Transitioning into liminal space

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Abandoned school, NW Indiana

Hey there!

I've been away from LJ for a while, and haven't posted or looked at much of anything. I haven't posted much here in the past anyway, but I'm a long-time watcher. But I'm back around, LJ and I'm trying to do a lot more photography this year. Submitted for your approval, the results of my trip to an abandoned school in northwest Indiana, largely copied and pasted from my personal journal. So here goes!


Above, we see your humble author pictured in a small, vaguely unsettling third-floor room above a gymnasium inside a high school in northwest Indiana. "Stormdog!" you may say; "I knew you were talking about going back to school, but I didn't think you needed quite that much remedial education!"

Well, perhaps I do (you should see me try to do algebra!), but that's beside the point, for this school is no longer serving a student population; it is entirely abandoned.

Come with me, along a trip through high school memories. Other people's memories. And I promise; this time there aren't any bullies to steal the book you're reading, tell the teacher you smell and get you sent to the nurse's office, or completely isolate you from your peer group and make your life a living hell for four years. Or was that was just me? Anyway, onward!

Meet my travel companion of the day, my brother, and one-time arch-nemesis (just ask him about Florida), No-LJ-James.


I had this past Monday off for a nice, leisurely drive home from Minneapolos. Since I didn't end up going to Minneapolis, I figured what the hell? I'd explore the high school that another local explorer, K-town, pointed posicat, nova_wolf, and myself at when we bumped into him on Saturday. The two of us got up early, readied our gear, and hit the road at the crack of dawn eleven o' clock. We're lazy; what can I say?

When we got there, I found the school just as difficult to access as the first time (that is to say, not very), and after a quick glance around to make sure the area was free of busybodies, we were in, standing once more in that dark, chilled hallway. We stepped over the security camera lying on the floor and set our bags down on a desk in the hallway. My breath misted in the air as I dug out my camera, slung my tripod across my back, and and loaded fresh batteries into my flashlight. A sign posted in the hallway reminded us of the upstanding way we should comport ourselves in these hallowed halls. (School name obscured to keep this location as pristine as can be hoped for.)


More posters festooned the walls near the entranceway, advertising various events and academic programs.



I have a feeling that a school is one of a small group of buildings wherein graffitti and vandalism would be commonly practiced by those who actively inhabited and used it. I have to wonder how much of that sort of thing that I saw was done after the school's closing, and how much was done prior to it.


We moved on to the location whose two-word name has struck fear in the hearts of boys and girls since the beginning of modern education; the office. As I look through my pictures, it strikes me that I don't really have any full-room shots of most areas. Part of it is due to equipment limitations; I've been drooling over wide-angle lenses for months, but I still don't have one.

Anyway, the office was a squareish room divided in half by a tall counter with a swinging door on one side. Piled against one wall were box after box of athletic trophies. It's such a shame for them to be left that way, as if none of the accomplishments of the school's students were worth remembering. That said, I can't really think of how they would be displayed elsewhere...


Also close at hand were a couple of cardboard boxes full of the padlocks that were used to secure the students' lockers, with even more spilled out onto the floor.



Now, while I'm on the subject of locks, I should mention that on my first trip to this centre of learning, posicat managed to find a big ol' set of keys in one of the lower level offices. When we left, we picked a locker to leave them in so we (and other explorers) could have access to them for next time. Posi, ever thoughtful, scratched into the locker, below the keyhook, 'Please return keys". *grins*

So, as No-LJ and I made our way through the school, we had this big janitor's ring with us to try out on any locked doors we happened to find. And drawers. Let's not forget the drawers.



It was so cool going through the desks and cabinets and files of this school that, in some places, almost felt like people had simply walked out one day at the end of classes, locked it up, and disappeared. In one way, it felt like being in a James Bond movie, never knowing when someone was going to walk in. In another way, it was like being onboard the Mary Celeste.

Speaking of cabinets and drawers, one of the rooms on the first floor contained not just boxes and books piled on the floor, but cabinets full of old yearbooks, student records, text books, grade books, diploma cases, and more.





Impressive, steel-cased file drawers lined the entirety of one wall. Many of them were labelled, but no more scholarships are to be found here...



In another part of the room was piled some computer hardware, the most memorable of which was a complete IBM AS/400 server. How cool is that! Also around were a dumb terminal, some modems, and what Posicat tells me is a token ring hub. I wouldn't recognize one if it bit me...



Helpful instructions on its use remained taped to the chassis.

"Turn key
White button at
top hold in
second or 2
turn key
back to normal
+ press white
button again"


As I took my turn at rummaging through the cabinets, I made a really interesting find; a class of 2001 graduation stole! I called No-LJ-James over; for this, I needed a model. I handed him one of the diploma cases and instructed him "Smile dude! You just graduated!"


Ahhh; that look of of optimism that only the freshly graduated can muster up! You can tell just looking at his face that his whole life is ahead of him. The future's so bright, he's gotta wear shades. Or maybe I should just stop shining my flashlight into people's eyes....

In another room in the basement I was amazed to discover a collection of photographs of graduating classes; some from the last decade, but more of them from the '50s. It's such a shame that some of these things were left to molder. Fortunately, K-town told me that he'd taken a number of things, like photos, band uniforms, and more, to the local historical society for preservation. It's amazing to me what people have no regard at all for.




Well, having exhausted the treasures to be found in those few rooms, we moved upstairs. The first floor is thoroughly boarded up, making it dark and rather cold. Our hands were getting pretty chilly, especially James', who didn't have a nice neoprene rubber grip on his Maglight. *grins* In a corner of the stairway landing, we found a remnant from an art, or maybe history, project.


The stairs also revealed a giveaway that's probably long expired (that's ok; I was far from qualified for it anyway)


And a text book employed in a somewhat unorthodox manner (which I overexposed on my camera...)


Of course, I already had a plan. Last time I was there, I got a look at the auditorium, and my appetite was whetted. See, I love theatres; they're my favorite kind of building, bar none. I love every chance I get to explore one. And this one was pretty neat. Sure, it's no '20s Art Deco movie palace, but every theatre has it's beauty.






(Damn, I wish this picture had been level. I need an easier to level tripod.)


We speculated on how the single chandelier had become dislodged from the ceiling. Our best guess was scrappers who yanked it down somehow, then decided they didn't want it. Probably the same people who smashed all the porcelein fixtures in the bathrooms to steal pipe. I always hate seeing that kind of shit.

On a tangent, I've long thought that, if one could study the decay pattern of a building, you'd have a pattern that be defined nearly as clinically as the decay of the human body. The building is locked up and secure for a while. Then, perhaps as people forget about it, or budgets are cut, it's no longer watched. The first group to get in might be the scrappers, who may break a window or otherwise open the structure up and get at the valuable metals within it. Now vulnerable, the building may start to attract local vandals, who start to do more damage, breaking windows and writing on walls. Weather then begins to get in through the mising panes and open doors and the decay accelerates exponentially. It would be fascinating, in a somewhat morbid way, to track the process of entropy in a series of buildings, see whether there really is a pattern like that. There are patterns in everything...

Anyway, sorry to digress. The afternoon sun made for a wonderful exposure of James at the grand piano in front of the stage. The effect was almost like he has a spotlight on him at the keyboard. Unfortunately, my skills didn't quite do the scene justice. Still, it's one of my favorites from the trip.


And of course there was no way we could pass up the beckoning ladder in the projection room! Unfortunately, there wasn't a whole lot of interest up there, though we did find the mechanisms to raise and lower the chandeleirs (electric winches). Still, it's so rare that I'm in a building in good enough shape to trust wooden catwalks that I wasn't going to pass up my chance!



Amazingly, behind the grand drape in the proscenium arch, all the heavy, black velvet legs, teasers, and travellers still hang from the full fly system. Having worked in technical theatre, I can tell you that those are far from inexpensive items. Regretfully, someone had opened the roof hatches above the stage and gridiron (the metal framework just below the roof of the theatre, usually forty to sixty feet up or so, that you walk on when running new cables for curtains and such), leaving them exposed to the elements. When I'd been there a few days ago, Posicat and I tried to get them closed, but we couldn't figure out how to latch them. It pains me to think about Spring rains pouring water all over that beautiful stage... *sighs* I also found that, since someone had cut all the rungs of the ladder that once climbed from the stage floor to the grid, that those hatches where the only available way to get onto the grid. Which I, of course, did on my first trip there.

We explored on from there and wound up in a small gymnasium area behind the theatre. Rickety looking tables and chairs were packed with old computer hardware and other detritus.



A spiral staircase lead up to the next level. I love spiral staircases so very much!



At the top of the stairs, we found ourselves on a balcony that encircled the gym below and, prior to the installation of the drop ceiling that had obviously been added in, would have looked down on it. Racks full of small, wire cages with padlocks stood around the walkway. Some of them seemed to have old clothing in them. Perhaps lockers weren't available for students' gym clothes.



Only half the gym was covered by the new ceiling; in the other half, the part that we'd first walked into, the full 3 story height of the original construction could be seen.


The rooms above contained things like weight lifting equipment, schedules, wrestling periodicals, and other assorted debris. As I said back at the beginning, there was something somewhat disturbing to me about these little secluded rooms up there. Maybe it's just my lingering dread of PE.




You may have noticed a door up on the third floor in the picture of the gym, reachable by a strange staircase that climbed up from the circular balcony around the room. Well, I got up to the door from that side and found it locked from the other side. Fortunately, we are a resourceful people. We made our way around to the other side of the door and, courtesy of the master key on the ring that James was carrying, showed that door who's boss, mugging for the camera at my request at the same time ("C'mon Jim! Look more excited!!" He humored me tremendously this trip; thanks bro!)




On the other side of the little stack of rooms, there was another room, a twin of the gymnasium area on the first side. This one, though, was undivided and open. Here's a look down at it from the balcony. Looks like this room was used for wrestling, guessing by the ginormous rolled up mat in the wall cabinet.


A picture of the sodium vapor lights hanging in the gym. I like the way this one came out.


And to satisfy my spiral staircase fetish, a shot looking down the second spiral staircase, which was our route back to the first floor.


We moved on through more hallway. Suddenly, we were surrounded by women in bathing suits! An announcer on the overhead speakers shouted that we'd just been granted the 'Back to School' award for best exploration of an abandoned education facility in March of 2009 and one of them presented a monstrous trophy to us! James solemly accepted the honor.


Ok, we really just found it in the hall. I had you going there though, didn't I? The trophy was the Best Overall award for a 1990 regional drill team competition. I think this is the biggest trophy I have ever seen in my life.

In most schools, a big stack of NRA rifle targets in a locker would get you expelled.


This school, on the other hand was home to a JROTC chapter. I guess that means guns are ok here.


Oh, and lest it be thought that womern have no place in today's army, that's not the case at all. Women have a place in the military, and it's very clear exactly what that place is. Just check out this Miss ROTC trophy!


As well as all the trophies in the main office, there were even more boxes of them in a small room off the corridor there. What a shame that all these things that probably meant a lot to most of the people who earned them should be left to rot.


We found ourselves in a science lab next. Rather than blather about the great awesomeness of everything there, just take a look at the pictures. Highlights include a countertop autoclave, a geiger counter, a fetal pig in a jar, test tubes with a white powdery substance in them, and what I think might be an actual portion of some kind of skull. Hmmm...













Amazingly, most of the glassware in the lab was present and intact. I don't know how long it will stay that way...

After spending a couple hours going through upstairs classrooms, we were warmed up, and feeling a little exposed with all the unboarded windows on the second floor. We decided to go back downstairs for a little swim.



Oh well; maybe another time. The echoes in this room were unbelievable. With no water in the pool, sounds sustained themselves four or five times as long as in a typical, hydrated pool room. I swear that when I hummed the right tone and got a standing wave going, it would reverberate for a good thirty seconds.

We moved on to the shop room. The shop was a mess, with furniture, boxes, and chunks of buckling flooring everywhere. But also present were some really nice pieces of machinery. These really pain me to see left here; I could seriously use a nice bandsaw or drill press!





Now, I don't know what the heck that fourth machine is, but don't forget; you always have to worry about the quiet ones.

Wow, this has gotten long, hasn't it? Let me leave you with a few other highlights. Stacks of books in the cafeteria, with boxes of more laboratory glassware and books in the back behind them.


Empty lunch lines.


Some random stuff in hallways and rooms.

















That's about it for this trip. There were were a couple other neat places, notably the two story, basement level HVAC room with three VW microbus-sized boilers, and the actual full-size gym with the bleachers and basketball hoops and what not. Unfortunately, those rooms are both so huge that my little bitty flashlight was nowhere near enough light to get pictures. I'm planning to back this weekend with Posicat, who has a poor man's portable lighting rig; I'm going to see if it's enough to get photos with.

So, is there a future for this building? It's in really good shape right now. I'd even say that, with a few months of cleaning and setup, there could be students taking classes there again. As for what's going on outside of the school, that's up in the air. This city hasn't been in great shape economically for a long time, and with the recession that's hitting us right now, I'm not seeing a big chance for this place to be used again any time soon. But who knows what the future holds. Should the city be ready for her, it has a really great resource right here, nearly ready to go. And in the meantime, there's always hope.

Tags: midwest usa, school
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