Photo (source): A postcard of the stadium in its prime.
Photo (source): Bush Stadium after years of decay.
Social conditions in early 1900’s America saw a massive shift in the way the working class lived. Electricity, automobiles, health and safety laws, worker’s rights legislation, improved public education, and government funded infrastructure afforded the working class the opportunity to thrive. Progress meant that the American public gained more time for leisure activity. Many Americans sought to occupy their free time devoted to baseball.
Baseball was a package ripe for entrepreneurs to capitalize upon. The drama of the game had its winners and losers, heroes and villains, its loyal followers, and content perfect for radio and print media transmission. The stadium became a cathedral where the faithful throngs could worship the game whilst owners reaped the economic rewards. A team worthy of reverence is, therefore, deserving of a stadium demonstrative of its glory.
Photo: The main gate turnstiles at the abandoned stadium.
During the golden age of baseball stadiums were erected as a testament to the game. In 1931 the Art Deco stylized stadium Perry Field opened its gates to fans of the minor league Indianapolis Indians. The name held until World War II when the field was rechristened to the patriotic Victory Field. Once the field was sold to the city of Indianapolis in 1967 it was renamed to its current namesake Bush Stadium.
In its prime Bush Stadium was the template for what other baseball stadiums should aspire to. The red brick lined outfield was covered in ivy. During gameplay the scoreboard had to be manually changed to reflect current statistics. Unobstructed views meant that there was not a single bad seat in the house. The venue played host to American Association, Pacific Coast League, International League, and Negro League games.
Photo: Cold empty seats without the warm presence of adoring fans.
Once the cars were cleared away Indianapolis began to stoke development interest in the neglected property. The stadium is currently being renovated into an apartment complex that will preserve much of the aesthetics of the original field. The project is part of a larger urban renewal plan to reinvigorate the area into one that fuels America’s new leisurely pastime: consumerism.
Video (source): Plans for the apartment complex built upon the ruins of Bush Stadium.
Sports play a quintessential role in experiencing the American Dream. If you want to bet on your teams, you can conveniently do so online on sites such as 선시티카지노. On the field, court, track, pool or rink is where our heroes are born. It is a place where even those coming from less than ideal circumstances can rise above their social station. These venues are secular churches to the American Dream: a place where people can congregate, worship the spectacle of conflict, and adore those with seemingly superhuman abilities. On the western edge of Gleason Park in Gary, Indiana is such a church. Concrete walls are collapsing around the narthex. Weeds grow unfettered in the sanctum of the football field. The roar of the crowd in the pews are not but the chirping of fleeting birds. With no gods to worship, the American Dream is essentially dead at Gilroy Stadium.
In January, 1955 mayor Peter Mandich pushed the city council for the construction of a sports complex called the South Gleason Park Athletic Complex. Mandich promised the council that if costs exceeded their ability to pay that the project would go no further. The council decided to go forward with the construction of a stadium as the first element, funding construction to the tune of $350,000 in bonds. Several weeks later Mandich again appealed for funds to complete the stadium, stating “I’d much rather not build a stadium if we’re not going to build a decent one.” Throughout the bidding process city officials were given low-ball estimates to work with. Before long it was discovered that over $687,000 was already awarded to independent contractors. Cost overruns continued to loom as construction wrapped up in 1956 and the final bill amounted to $1 million dollars (or more than $8.5 million adjusted for inflation).
Comparing the stadium to another sports facility of the era illustrates just how horrendous spending on the project had become. Built in 1957 at a cost of $940,000, Lambeau Field in Green Bay, WI used 11,000 tons of steel to complete an NFL calibre venue that could seat 32,000 fans. The stadium in Gary, built in a city that the steel industry defined, used a paltry 630 tons and could only seat 10,000. Citizens were understandably livid at having to foot the cost of a substandard facility. Plans to construct additional sports facilities for the South Gleason Park Athletic Complex came to a screeching halt.
Despite the enormous amount of money poured into the football field several features were never finished. Bleachers, concession stands, and restroom facilities to accommodate 5,000 fans on the south side of the football field never materialized. Staff offices, maintenance facilities, and an additional locker room also never saw the light of day. Gravel for an eight lane running track surrounding the football field was laid down, but never actually paved.
Photo: The press box has been cordoned off, but the field at large remains wide open.
The stadium took its namesake from local citizen John F. “Jack” Gilroy. He had come to the area in 1911 and took a gym teacher position at Emerson High School. The affable Gilroy rose to become the city’s first athletic director four years later. By the time the stadium was complete, and Gilroy ready to retire, the venue was named in his honor. At the grand opening on September 1, 1956 all eight area high schools participated in Football-O-Rama exhibition games.
By 1962 the façade that Mandich had enthusiastically pitched just a few years prior was beginning to literally fall apart. Building inspectors noted considerable cracking and moisture damage in the concrete supporting the bleachers. Scandal swirled around the field when federal investigation into six individuals involved with project were convicted for kickbacks and bribes during development. Nothing more than a coat of fresh paint was used to put the concerns about construction to rest.
Photo (source): The Jackson 5 with Mayor Hatcher at Gilroy Stadium.
Between 1963 and 1973 local schools found Gilroy facilities unable to meet their needs. Most decided that it was in their best interest to construct their own facilities instead of paying rental fees, which hastened the decline of Gilroy Stadium. As the number of sporting events precipitously dwindled, city officials populated the schedule with alternative events. During the annual talent search in 1965 an upstart family act called The Jackson 5 won with their performance of “Bearfootin’.” Their stunning performance garnered the group’s first notable media mention in the local Gary Post Tribune. The Jackson 5 would return to Gilroy Stadium again in 1968, but this time they were signed under the famed music label Motown Records.
Over the next thirty years the languishing facility would only be used intermittently. Anecdotal evidence says that the scoreboard has not been lit since some point in the 1980s. Tower lights that went dark were no longer replaced. In 1994 concrete collapsed onto an electrical transformer, which knocked out power and lead to the cancellation of the Taste of Gary festival. Functional indoor plumbing only existed in the distant memories of those who knew the stadium in its prime. In between use weeds would consistently reclaim the surrounding area.
Photo: Weeds growing over the concourse up to the bleachers.
The beleaguered venue was again embroiled in controversy after the city granted the Ku Klux Klan the right to hold an event at the stadium in 2001. On the day of the gathering a crowd of protesters greatly outnumbered the 25 Klan members in attendance. It was reported that the protesters were able to drown out the hate speech by singing “We Shall Overcome” in unison.
A vast majority of the events at the stadium have been significantly more benign in comparison. The field has been sporadically used for a variety of concerts, friendly competitions, and other public gatherings. Because the bleachers were wholly unfit public use a significantly smaller set was constructed to accomodate audiences. Although the stadium was worse for wear, the Gary Golden Bears semi-pro football team called it home for 15 years.
In 2002 park department officials finally locked the gates and erected no trespassing signs around the perimeter fence. Curious explorers will find relatively little left behind at the barren stadium. Upper level concrete floors have begun to cave into the lower. Unlocked doors sway whenever the wind catches them right. The bleachers are faded white from a constant barrage of harsh sunlight. Vines have taken root and are working their way up with a level of patience only found in nature. Steel exposed to the elements has succumbed to relentless oxidation. On the north side a relatively new baseball diamond has been constructed, but even that has shows signs of neglect endemic to Gary.
As with many other building proposals planned for Gary the future of Gilroy Stadium seems to hang perpetually in the balance. One proposal to construct a casino on the property has all but stalled. Another proposal includes donating the property to be the future site of a museum dedicated to the memory of Michael Jackson. In the absence of sporting gods to worship, it seems almost fitting that the land be dedicated to other American deities: money and celebrity.
Google Books – The Jackson 5 perform a benefit concert at the stadium in 1968.
Google Books – Two photos of people at Gilroy Stadium in its heyday.
Google Books – Briefly mentions Gilroy Stadium in relation to the Jackson’s home.
J5 Collector – Photo of The Jackson 5 during Gary’s Festival at the stadium in 1969.
Post Tribune – 1996 article on the troubled history of Gilroy Stadium.
Post Tribune – 2001 article comparing Gary, Indiana’s Gilroy Stadium to Lambeau Field in Green Bay, WI.
Post Tribune – 2001 article detailing the Ku Klux Klan rally event and protest.
Post Tribune – 2001 article citing the number of Ku Klux Klan members at the event.
Post Tribune – 2002 article on the uncertain future of the stadium.
Post Tribune – 2010 article on the details of a Michael Jackson museum.
Post Tribune – 2011 article on the stalled Michael Jackson museum.
Region Sports – An article on the rise and fall of Gilroy Stadium.
Photo (source): The “Old Main” building of the hospital served as the Men’s Department.
Prior to the establishment of mental health facilities in the United States most individuals suffering from mental disorders were relegated to living as beggars in almshouses, being secluded in damp basements, or confined for the rest of their days in prison. Patients in asylums fared only slightly better, as they were often subject to questionable treatment at the hands of their physicians.
At the time conventional medical practitioners did not have the benefit of advanced imaging techniques, testing procedures, and psychiatric treatment breakthroughs we take for granted. Physicians in the 1800’s believed that forms of “insanity” were thought to all derive from either direct physical or indirect moral sources. Brain specimens from patients post mortem often revealed direct physical sources for insanity such as physical trauma, lesions, tumors, syphilis, or other organic causes. Indirect moral sources as a cause for insanity ranged a wide gamut from the entirely plausible to highly improbable. These factors could include fatigue, seduction, jealousy, religious excitement, drunkeness, tobacco use, drug addiction, masturbation, lack of education, and financial difficulty.
The government of Indiana’s official concern for individuals with psychological issues dates back to 1827. That year the state legislature allocated a small parcel of land known as “square 22” with a small log cabin in Indianapolis to be used as a “lunatic asylum.” In 1844 political activist Dorothea Dix persuaded the Indiana General Assembly to appropriate funds for an official state-run asylum. Governor Whitcomb appointed his associate Dr. John Evans as commissioner in charge of developing the hospital. In fall of 1845 the state purchased a 160-acre plot of farmland three miles from the center of Indianapolis from Nathaniel Bolton for the sum of $5,300.
Photo: A well worn workbench in the former power station.
To prepare for construction Dr. Evans travelled east to study mental institutions at his own expense. His subsequent building recommendation for the hospital followed the Kirkbride Plan. One defining element of Kirkbride Plan architecture is a central core with staggered wings. Each area had prescribed uses to maximize hospital efficacy. The core contained offices, reception room, visitor’s suite, kitchen, chapel, and other essential rooms. The wings were partitioned into wards accommodating patients according to their classification and gender. In addition to patient rooms, the Kirkbride Plan also allocated space for recreation, hygiene, food service and other hospital logistics. The grounds surrounding these types of buildings were quite expansive and ornate, thus guaranteeing a level of seclusion from an intruding and curious public.
In addition to architectural style requirements, the Kirkbride Plan is heavily ingrained with Moral Treatment philosophy. In combination with medical care patients were expected to participate in recuperative therapy, religious exercise, education courses, work therapy, social engagements, and a host of other activities perceived to have curative effects. Hospital staff were discouraged from using restraints whenever possible, refrain from using physical violence, show compassion to their wards and have a thorough understanding of their condition.
On May 5, 1846 construction of the Indiana State Hospital for the Insane broke ground. As time progressed a myriad of support structures sprawled across the expansive plot of land. These included expansions to the “Old Main” Men’s Department, the “Seven Steeples” Women’s Department, Central Boiler House and Plant, Carpenter’s Shop, Pathological Department, Kitchen, Dining Rooms, Greenhouse, Cold Storage, Upholstry Department, Amusement Hall, Chapel, Fire Department, staff homes, and Administration Building among others. The elegant architecture of the “Seven Steeples” Women’s Department was admired for its elegance, but in reality it possessed eight steeples.
The new facility opened its doors and welcomed five patients on November 21, 1848. Treating mental illness at that time involved a great deal of speculation with little hope for recovery for many patients. The hastening pace of industrialization, the ravages of the Civil War, and friction between Victorian era and American societal norms further compounded matters. As such the patient population at the hospital would greatly increase to the point where it suffered from chronic overcrowding.
Photo: Aged chairs succumbing to the elements in one of the many derelict hospital structures.
Ideally the ultimate goal of any hospital is to provide the best care it can for patients. In pursuit of this goal, however, the hospital was not able to avoid becoming a pawn for those with political or ideological agendas. In fact the hospital experienced regular intervals of discord both internally and publicly. Cyclical underfunding brought about by fiscal conservatism ensured that the hospital was consistently unable to perform some of its duties. Outrage directed towards the hospital in times of crisis were then typically followed by a period of progressive reform.
On the surface the hospital appeared to be quite progressive in its efforts to properly treat its wards. Behind the scenes, however, was a hidden reality for the most indigent and dangerous patients. In 1870 the Indiana Governor received the following report on some of the deplorable conditions at the hospital.
“…basement dungeons (are) dark, humid and foul, unfit for life of any kind, filled with maniacs who raved and howled like tortured beasts, for want of light, and air, and food, and ordinanry human associations and habiliments…”
Dr. Everts – Superintendent
Central State Hospital for the Insane
Declining conditions at the hospital also included lack of proper staff training, heat, proper lighting, ventilation, structural maintenance, proper bedding, and kitchens infested with cockroaches due to inadequate funding. Dr. Everts efforts to highlight the plight endured by the hospital fell on deaf ears, which led to his resignation in 1872.
It took the printed word of actual hospital patients who endured the conditions at the hospital to arouse public indignation. Civil war veteran and former patient Albert Thayer disseminated his accounts along with others via a broadside called “Indiana Crazy House” to churches, politicians, and Indiana citizens. Thayer’s efforts were somewhat successful in improving physical conditions at the hospital. Despite these improvements, primary caregivers at the hospital continued to be poorly trained medical attendants rather than actual physicians. Patient abuse at the hands of their overwhelmed caretakers continued unabated. The misuse of sedatives and physical restraints to ease the staff workload was common practice.
In late 1883 the hospital hired the first officially recognized female medical doctor in Indiana. At the time of her arrival Sarah Stockton was just one of only 22 female physicians in the United States. Dr. Stockton was tasked primarily with the care of female patients. Her focus centered on reproductive ailments, which were at that time generally thought to exacerbate mental illness.
Dr. Stockton’s hiring was just one of the calculated efforts by Superintendent Richard Fletcher to bring about reform. To protest the poor conditions at the hospital Fletcher caused a spectacle when he publicly burned the hospital’s physical restraints in a bonfire in 1885. Several other practical reforms were instituted under his tenure. Medicinal use of whiskey was reduced from three gallons per day down to just one pint. Patients enjoyed the benefit of free dental care. He also brought dignity to those patients who had passed on by abandoning the practice of anonymous burials.
Photo (source): 1931 aerial photo from the south looking north. Notice the two large staggered Kirkbride Plan buildings.
With the construction of other mental health facilities the official hospital name changed around 1889 to Central Indiana State Hospital for the Insane to reflect its geographic location in relation to the others. This period is marked by positive change brought about by Superintendent George Edenharter. One of the first pathology laboratories in the nation opened under his leadership in 1896. This state of the art teaching and research facility included a lecture amphitheater, autopsy room, photography room, library, anatomical museum, and research laboratories.
Criminology also made significant strides at the hospital under the direction of Dr. Max Bahr. Bahr’s research focused on the link between crime and mental illness. You can hop over to here to get in contact with the best legal firm. He developed some of the first forensic psychiatry courses for American lawyers. During his tenure the name of the hospital changed to Central State Hospital (CSH) in 1926.
The pathology department would gain international renown in 1931 when Dr. Walter Bruetsch made significant discoveries in the treatment of syphilis. He discovered that malaria triggered the production of white blood cells that consumed both syphilis and malaria. Prior to his discovery, syphilis had been the largest cause of mental illness. This major breakthrough made significant headway in treating syphilis until the advent of penicillin.
During the 1950s advances in psychopharmacology shifted public perception of mental health facilities nationwide. Up until that point the patient population had swelled to approximately 2,500. Throughout the 1960s and 1970s a trend towards deinstitutionalization became a matter of public health policy. As a result patients with conditions that could be controlled with medication and cases of mental retardation were moved into smaller facilities, half-way houses, or trained to live autonomously. The total number of patients would continue to decline until its eventual closing.
Photo (Jonathon Much): A chair waits in the Administration Building.
With an ever declining in-patient population and movement toward deinstitutionalization much of the hospital languished. In the mid-1960 Superintendent Clifford Williams reported that there was only one bathtub and three toilets serving all 24 wards. Patients were also kept in perpetual darkness as rooms did not have lighting.
Public attention during the 1970s also focused on the repeal of one of Indiana’s most dubious public health laws. In 1907 the state passed the first eugenics law, which empowered the state to forcibly sterilize the poor, drunkards, sexual deviants, the mentally deficient and those with communicable or hereditary disease. The law was overturned in 1921 on constitutional grounds, but a 1927 revision resumed the use of forcible sterilization. Up until 1974 the state carried out approximately 2,500 forcible sterilizations, some of which occurred at CSH. Bowing to public pressure the law was finally repealed in 1974.
In the same decade some of the remaining Victorian-era buildings, including the ornate Seven Steeples, were demolished to make room for practical facilities with modern amenities. Beneath the surface, however, still exists a service tunnel network that spans five miles that connected all of the buildings.
Reports of patient abuse and deaths once again cast a dark shadow in the early 1990s. By then the total patient numbers had dwindled to under 400. Between 1988 and 1992 as many as 24 patients may have died under questionable circumstances. One patient died of exposure from a broken window. Another patient was found dead after drowning in a bathtub. Yet another had died from a medication overdose. After a grand jury investigation into at least ten of the suspicious deaths then Governor Evan Bayh decided to shut down the aging hospital. Although the writing was on the wall the state allocated $2.2 million for renovations, excluding labor costs, in 1993 to bring the hospital up to code. In June, 1994 the last 18 patients were transferred to other facilities. With its beds empty the hospital closed its doors after 146 years in public service.
Today there are 19 structures in various states that are scattered on the grounds. Of these the Administration Building, Dining Hall, Laundry, and Pathology Building are registered as historically significant buildings. In 2003 Indianapolis purchased the property from the state for $400,000 and has marketed it as a great opportunity for mixed development. Construction crews have already begun working on the east side of the property, which means the end is in sight for many of the forgotten hospital structures.
Photo: The delusional author insists on getting his hair permed despite suffering alopecia androgenetica.
Exploring the hospital grounds proved to be a greater challenge than originally anticipated. Although many of the buildings are exposed to the elements, extreme cold during the exploration hampered the effort. Both the bottles of water and soda I carried with me froze to the point where they became undrinkable. My fingers could not stand being exposed for a few seconds at a time even with hand warmers inside of retractable gloves. Condensation from my respirator dripped constantly throughout the day rendering a drip ice pattern on the front of my jacket. The lenses I tried to use became unresponsive or were fogged up. At one point the mode and power switch on my camera froze together, which rendered the entire camera inoperable. Staying warm took priority over concentrating on finding subjects to photograph. Being a Wisconsin native bore no weight in this cold and the overall quality of photos taken suffered.
Photo: Amphitheater in the Pathology Building used for medical instruction.
After spending most of the day feeling like Han Solo frozen in carbonite I decided to head over to the Indiana Medical History Museum housed in the former Pathology Building. The guided tour is somewhat brief, but densely packed with fascinating medical history. The guide escorts visitors through the various rooms dedicated to specific tasks involved with treating patients. Throughout the tour they tread a fine line between satisfying the morbidly curious while simultaneously respecting medical history. Visitors are confronted with the authentic medical instruments, techniques, and ephemera from the periods they represent. Although some of installation pieces may induce nausea, this is usually replaced by an instant appreciation for modern medical practices. I can confidently prescribe this museum to anyone within the vicinity. Side effects may include curiosity, amazement, and learning.
There are a dearth of available sources that tout the hospital’s attraction as a haunted location. These pieces like to highlight the darker areas of its history to accentuate its mystique. Some go so far as to present what they believe to be bona fide evidence of paranormal activity. It is important to remember that these people in the majority of cases are by no means actual scientists using proven methods. They run around in the dark and claim to hear or see things for what they are not. In some ways they share traits with those who were legitimate patients suffering from paranoia, hallucinations, and delusions. By muddying the history these people do its doctors and patients a disservice.
Advances in medical testing, forensics, diagnosis procedure, pharmacology, and psychiatry have greatly reduced the need for patient institutionalization. For as long as the human body is plagued by illness, there will always be the need for institutions to house patients who need care. If there is anything that the history of Central State Hospital can teach us it is that medical care is not a pawn for political, ideological, or budgetary gain. It is in the public interest to adequately fund healthcare for all. It is the kind, compassionate, and morally right thing to do as disease cares not for anyone’s convictions.
Video (nichdane04): Century old brain specimens from CSH are being used to study mental illness.
Photo (source): Emerson School as it appeared when it opened in 1909.
Americans constantly grapple with the best methods to educate children to become good citizens that contribute positively to society. Determining which facts, figures, names, dates, tests, benchmarks and statistics are significant is a battle waged on both ends of the ideological spectrum. Somewhere in the milieu we come to an agreement that there is never enough time to instruct everything in depth. Given the volume of content teachers must fit into curriculum for students to learn, many issues are drastically oversimplified. One of those unfortunate distortions is that after the Civil War the northern states continued to accept black Americans. The racially-charged history of the Emerson School on Gary, Indiana’s east side is one of those that should make you ask, “What did I really learn in school?”
Photo: The main doorway of the now abandoned Emerson High School.
Gary’s first school superintendent, Dr. William A. Wirt, helped design the first high school in the area. Wirt brought progressive reforms to the Gary schools that modern educators would accept as the norm. Wirt’s education philosophy revolved around the idea that the “whole child” must be educated. A complete education in Wirt’s philosophy includes not only developing the intellectual, but also the social, physical, vocational and character qualities of the individual student.
The school bears the name of American transcendentalist author Ralph Waldo Emerson. The Emerson school was built to include new facilities to aid student development which included an auditorium, gymnasium, pool, and even a zoo. The new school proved to be so successful that Wirt had to implement a policy to handle the 20-30 curious daily visitors. Wirt would later reuse many design elements from Emerson in the world famous Horace Mann High School on the west side of town.
Wirt faced a dilemma in the 1910-20’s as the city’s black population greatly increased. The East Pulaski and Virginia Street School served the black population, but were segregated and in deplorable condition. The spillover caused nominal numbers of black students to receive education in predominately white schools throughout the city, but they were limited in which facilities they could use. In the 1926-27 school year six black students attended classes at Emerson High School. To help ameliorate the student overpopulation at Virginia Street School 18 black students were transferred to Emerson in 1927.
White students outraged at the presence of more black students in their midst immediately took to the streets. On Monday, September 26 some 600 students walked out of class. Those who remained inside were heckled incessantly until they joined the throngs of protesters. As the demonstration gained momentum signs saying, “WE WON’T GO BACK UNTIL EMERSON IS WHITE. . . . NO NIGGERS FOR EMERSON. . . . EMERSON IS A WHITE MAN’S SCHOOL” taunted the black students. On Tuesday the crowd swelled to about 800 students. Wirt hedged his bets by telling the angry crowd that “possibly when a new black school was erected on the east side, Emerson would be again segregated.” At its apex on Wednesday the student protesters numbered some 1357, which were also supported by family and other local citizens who took to the street. City, school, and district officials met with protesters to begin negotiations for bringing the strike to an end. By Friday an agreement was reached: Three of the original six black students at Emerson would be transfered, while the remaining three seniors would be allowed to graduate. The 18 black students transfered into Emerson would again be transferred out to other schools. The sum of $15,000 was also allocated for temporary facilities until a new black high school could be constructed.
Mounting pressure from civic groups such as the League of Women Voters, YWCA, and Gary Teacher’s Union to desegregate schools pushed district officials to make another attempt at integration in 1945. Again, white students took to the streets en masse in an effort to curb integration. Famous crooner Frank Sinatra even scolded the protesting students for their intolerance during a concert held at the Gary Memorial Auditorium. The following year the school district adopted a new policy that dictated, “children may not be discriminated in the school district in which they live, or within the schools in which they attend, because of race, color or religion.” The policy did not take effect until the following 1947 school year to allow the community time to adjust.
Photo: A classroom exposed to the elements swims in water.
After World War II the United States exported democracy and capitalism around the globe. As American business moved operations overseas major industrial centers began to decline. Because Emerson is a public school its fate is interwoven with that of Gary and its industry. As the population and median income plummeted, so to did revenue for Gary schools. Regular school operations continued until 1981 when low enrollment forced the school to reorganize. In 1982 the school changed its title to the Emerson School for the Visual and Performing Arts (VPA). The magnet school focused on attracting talent and fostering liberal arts skills.
Gary school district administrators faced a $23 million budget shortfall for the 2009 budget. At the time the district served about 14,000 students, which was half the enrollment 20 years prior. Consistently low test scores, high dropout rates, deplorable teaching facilities combined with an ever spiraling negative community tax base meant that hard decisions had to be made. The district decided to consolidate some of the area schools over a three year period. The writing, or mold more precisely, was on the wall for the historic building as concerned parents increasingly voiced their concern about Emerson health hazards. In 2008 the final bell rang for the Emerson building, which was just one year short of a full century of education service for the Gary community. During the transition Emerson VPA relocated to Miller Beach, Indiana. In 2011 the school returned to Gary, Indiana and currently occupies the former William A. Wirt High School building.
Photo: A ransacked classroom still has notes on the chalkboard from the last lesson.
The challenges of exploring the abandoned Emerson School were similar to Horace Mann High School, but were greatly intensified by inclement weather. The sky deluged the building to the point where some stairwells were inaccessible due to intense water flow. The ground floor of Emerson is set below the earth, so all water flowing within the building pooled in the ground level. The heavy cloud cover also shrouded the building in a cloak of darkness, which made setting up shots even more time consuming. The massive thunderstorm briefly subsided, only to be followed by stifling humidity. Then the storms returned in full force and set off tornado alarms. For a few moments before leaving the sun decided to peek through the clouds.
The building itself, which is on the National Register of Historic Places, is massive in scale. Wirt’s philosophies put into practice are immediately apparent when navigating the structure. The entire building revolves around the central auditorium and branches outwards. Science, math, language, music and other classrooms are easily identifiable by the decaying instructional material left behind. Even though the school had closed as recently as 2008, it felt as though Emerson was a generation behind. The only real modern artifacts found were unused textbooks still securely bound in dry storage areas. Each classroom seemed to harken back to an education generation that was no longer relevant to the modern classroom. Newspapers from decades past, Apple II computer equipment, floppy disks, vinyl records, lithographed secular songbooks and grade punchcards were stashed away all throughout. Some classrooms were filled with graffiti, while others still bear the final lesson on the chalkboard.
While considering the history and artifacts discovered on the whole Emerson can be compared to a tragic lifespan. A youthful Emerson was once daring, innovative, and eager to try new things. Mid-life struggles weighed heavily on Emerson’s soul and snuffed out the fire. In its waning years Emerson existed as a shell of its former self until finally passing. The century-old new revival style building lies dormant among a neighborhood of low-income housing and overgrown weeds.
Photo: The YouTube generation will never appreciate the educational filmstrip.
In the introduction to this article I asked, “What did I really learn in school?” Although I cannot formulate an answer for the reader, I feel that sharing what I have learned from exploring Emerson is educational. While studying for my instructor’s license I became intimately familiar with the Supreme Court ruling in Brown v. Board of Education and its followup cases mandating the end of school segregation. I feel cheated that my grade and high schools boiled the segregation issue down to a base pair. It is convenient to teach that the northern United States was more tolerant and accepting of African-Americans. When the test comes it is easy to remember which bubble to fill in. As a white middle-class male I have never given the issue much weight before. In my adult life I find myself undoing a lot of the education that was force-fed. Reading books like James Loewen’s best-selling “Lies My Teacher Told Me” have been monumental in supplementing my understanding of American history.
History, race, decay and photography combined are not on the curriculum at your local school. American Urbex is willing to educate all who wish to educate themselves regardless of race, age, sex, religion or creed. He may not have known it at the time, but Ralph Waldo Emerson actually provides sage advice for the adventurous urban explorer. He says, “Do not go where the path may lead, go instead where there is no path and leave a trail.”
Photos: My collection of photos from the Emerson School.
City Data – Emerson student and school performance statistics.