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): Sears, Roebuck & Co. complex as it appeared in 1906.
Contemporary American consumers can purchase almost anything they need via the internet around the clock. Online retailers like Amazon rely on a readily accessible inventory catalog, honest customer reviews, and shipping distribution hubs to satiate a consumer’s every desire. While the internet component may be exclusive to the modern marketplace, the concept of selling to consumers directly is one that dates all the way back to the late 1800’s. One company in particular cornered the mail-order and retail markets so heavily that it’s catalog became known as the “Consumer’s Bible.” Sears may still be around these days, but if you are a regular American Urbex reader, you can probably guess how it is all going to end.
Richard Warren Sears, 23, worked as a station agent for Minneapolis and St. Louis Railway in North Redwood, Minnesota in 1886. One day a shipment of gold pocket watches from a Chicago wholesaler was refused by businessman Edward Stegerson. With the recent implementation of time zones and ever-expanding reach of railway lines throughout the United States, Sears recognized the growing importance to keep accurate time. Sears contacted the Chicago wholesaler and agreed to purchase the watches for $12 a piece, which he then sold for $14. The enterprising young man had little trouble marketing the gold watches to railway personnel, farmers, and passengers. Within six months Sears garnered $5,000 in profit. Sears then moved his burgeoning start-up to Minneapolis and founded the R.W. Sears Watch Company.
Photo: A desk on the top floor draped in a soiled American flag.
The young entrepreneur had an apparent knack for writing plain-spoken advertising copy and his mail-order watch business bloomed. On March 1, 1887 Sears set up shop on Dearborn Street in Chicago. One month later Sears placed an advertisement for a watchmaker in the Chicago Daily News. Shortly thereafter he received a reply from Alvah Curtis Roebuck, whom he hired to fix returned product. Sears continued to market his jewelry wares directly to customers through nationwide mail-order. After just two years of operation Sears sold the successful business for $72,000 and headed to Iowa.
Merely a week passed before Sears became restless and contacted Roebuck to form the company that eventually bore both their names. The Sears, Roebuck & Co. applied the same down-to-earth marketing tactics they used with jewelry to a wide range of consumer goods. Sears catalogs were designed to supplant rural general stores by including plain-speak descriptions of goods accompanied by pictures with list prices. This disintermediation cut rural general store’s common practice of price gouging out the equation. Mail-order items would be sent directly from Sears to the consumer via the ever-expanding network of national railroads and US Post Office.
Although competitor Montgomery Ward had beaten Sears to the mail-order catalog punch by twenty years, it was Sears that innovated many of the marketing strategies that catapulted his company to the title of “World’s Largest Store.” Catalogs were purposefully printed in smaller forms than magazines, due to the fact that most people stack reading material from largest to smallest. This placed the Sears catalog front and center on most coffee tables in homes. The inclusion of product photos and models, especially young attractive females, further enticed consumers to place orders. As waves of immigrants arrived in America in the early 1900’s the company began including order forms in English, German, and Swedish. Sears catalogs even informed barely literate consumers that no judgement would be made for poor penmanship, grammar, or spelling errors.
To accomodate the expanding operation the company purchased 41.6 acres of land on Chicago’s west side in 1904. Seven thousand men laid down 23 million bricks and 15 million feet of lumber to complete the multi-building Sears, Roebuck and Co. Complex. One of the most iconic features was the 14-story Sears Merchandise Building Tower, which was attached to now demolished 3.3 million square foot Merchandise Building. Other complex buildings included the Administration Building, Advertising Building, Printing Building, Powerhouse and more structures were added as the years progressed.
The sheer magnitude of the 5 million square foot complex mandated several innovations to keep regular operations running efficiently for the 22,000 employees who worked there in its heyday. The company built its own internal power plant to provide electricity to all complex buildings. An intricate network of pneumatic tubes greatly increased inter-office communications between staff. To insure safety the entire complex was fitted with emergency sprinklers and a volunteer fire department. A male and female segregated cafeteria system kept workers fed throughout the day. Employees could even do their banking with the on-site Sears Bank. The company even provided entertainment for the Chicago area by housing the WLS (“World’s Largest Store”) AM radio station in the Merchandise Tower.
Photo (Nitram242): View of the complex from the elevated parking structure.
Consumers purchasing habits shifted dramatically as the automobile became more accessible to the average person in the 1920’s. Sears’ core mail-order market had previously been the majority of Americans that lived in rural areas, far removed from urban stores. Automobiles enabled rural consumers to drive into cities to inspect goods at retail shops before purchase. Urban consumers by this point had already been accustomed to the convenience of in-store shopping. At the same time rural citizens left farming communities in droves to take up jobs in industrial centers of cities nationwide. Sears eventually acquiesced to opening a retail shop within the Merchandise Building in 1925. Its immediate success spurred Sears to open retail shops nationwide. By the close of the 1920’s the company opened a new store on average every other business day.
Despite occupying the largest business complex in the United States, The World’s Largest Store continued to grow and had thousands of employees scattered throughout the city at various locations. To alleviate this problem the company announced on July 27, 1970 that it would construct a skyscraper 100 feet taller than the World Trade Center. Upon completion the Sears Tower (now known as Willis Tower) became the tallest building in the world and had over 3.8 million square feet of office space. When Sears moved in 1973 to the tower the company expected profits to rise just as high. Stiff competition from Montgomery Ward’s, Wal-Mart, Kmart, and other more nimble retailers undercut Sears’ lofty projected growth. For much of the 1970’s and 80’s the building remained unoccupied by tentants. The original Sears, Roebuck & Co. Complex maintained skeletal operations until April 30, 1987 until it was finally shuttered after 82 years in operation. By 1989 the writing was on the wall as the company continued to flounder and Sears announced that it would move to its current headquarters in nearby Hoffmann Estates. Sears finally vacated the eponymous tower in 1995.
Photo: A Sears branded Silvertone radio collects dirt.
Up until the 1993 millions of American children thumbed through the Sears Wishbook during the winter holidays. The lists they created were, of course, impractically long for Santa (a.k.a. middle-class parents) to fulfill. The ecstatic kids pictured in the catalog were surrounded by mountains of toys. It painted the illusion that, if you have these things, you will be happy. It was a clever marketing tactic to indoctrinate future consumers to buy Sears product. Richard Sears knew that in the 1880’s and it still worked a century later. His innovation of using plain-spoken language, enticing photography, high-quality guarantees, fast shipping and customer service raised the bar for American retailers.
As with any great business innovation, other companies have adopted Sears’ tactics and further refined them. Today the Wish Book has been replaced by Amazon’s Wish List. Sears catalog was once a guaranteed source for high quality consumer goods at the best price, but the company ceased mail-order operations in 1993. Now Amazon connects consumers with any retailer with the best possible price for everything. The printed catalog was once a competitive advantage, but morphed over time into an inflexible liability as the company headed into the internet era. Unable to adapt to change the World’s Largest Store stagnated and lost their title. In 2011 the Sears brand failed to even rank among the top 100 consumer loyalty leaders. Sustained financial distress and a marked loss of brand prestige means that the corporate future of Sears hangs in the balance.
Of the original complex buildings the Catalog Plant remains dormant. Across the street is the original Allstate Insurance building, which also falls under the Sears umbrella of companies. After a long period of environmental exposure, the windows have been freshly boarded and the walkway connecting the Allstate building and Advertising Plant secured. Plans from 2005 to convert the Allstate building into condos have yet to materialize. After more than two decades of vacancy there are few reminders of the once dominant American company that occupied this space.
Photo (source): Ravenswood Hospital as it appeared in 1945.
The American healthcare system is for profit. American citizens’ health, safety, and well-being are managed by large companies looking to stay in the black. The other democracies and various forms of government in industrialized nations have recognized the danger that this poses to general public. While private medical care still thrives in these countries, there is at least a public healthcare plan to insure that all citizens have a safety net. The United States is the only country where citizens decide between health and crushing debt, even if they have insurance. These medical bills often go unpaid as patients hover around bankruptcy or simply do not have the means to pay them. Despite the inability of patients to pay, healthcare providers are required by federal law to treat patients. To stay financially competitive healthcare providers seek to mitigate their risk and cut costs wherever possible.
For one Chicago youth those risk-averse penny-pinching measures hastened his untimely death.
Photo: The Adler Pavilion portion of Ravenswood Hospital.
While playing basketball on North Wolcott Avenue, Christopher Sercye, age 15, was shot twice in the abdomen by gang members on Saturday May 16, 1998 around 6pm. His panic-stricken friends dragged Christopher about 100 yards to the ramp outside the emergency room of the nearby privately-owned Ravenswood Hospital before collapsing. Some reports say the injured teen was within 30 feet of the door, while others say he was 50 feet. In any case the teen was well within view of hospital staff. The first of five separate phone calls to emergency services came in at 6:15pm.
One friend ran inside the hospital and got two police officers to rush to Christopher’s aid. The officers and witnesses begged hospital staff to assist, but they demurred citing hospital policy that forbid them to exit the building. The officers on scene were also bound by protocol to not move injured people and wait for paramedics. At 6:23pm a request for an ambulance went out over police radio. Ignoring protocol one of the officers finally commandeered a wheelchair and rushed Christopher into the emergency room with a barely detectable pulse.
Photo: EKG readings from a patient file left in the hospital.
An ambulance finally arrived on scene at 6:29pm, but left after seeing Christopher being wheeled into the hospital. Emergency Room staff began administering treatment immediately. Two minutes later Christopher suffered cardiac arrest. Doctors discovered that the bullets punctured Christopher’s aorta, mesenteric vein, and colon. Christopher was pronounced dead at 7:33pm.
Prime suspect Aureliano Fajardo was arrested the next day. Two other accomplices, Salvador Aguilar and Lionel Duran, were also arrested in connection with the murder. Fajardo and Aguilar were kept on $1 million bond, while Duran was kept on $500,000 while charged with first-degree murder.
Two days after the shooting Ravenswood president and CEO John E. Blair rescinded the policy preventing hospital staff from exiting the building. In response to Christopher’s death Blair stated, “Above all, I want to make sure that if a tragedy like this ever occurs again, we have a different result. Media reports of the tragedy of Christopher’s death garnered national outrage. President Clinton threatened to revoke the $59 million annual Medicare funding for the hospital, but was later overruled by the Health Care Financing Administration.
Those who remember 8th grader Christopher Sercye described him as a leader with sense of humor. His family filed a lawsuit against Ravenswood Hospital later that year. In 2003 the courts ruled in favor of the family and awarded them $12.5 million for the wrongful death. That same year the “250 Yard Rule” was amended to the EMTALA law. The rule states that healthcare providers are required to respond to any “presentation” warranting medical assistance within 250 yards of the main hospital campus building.
Photo: A hospital bed takes up a majority of floorspace in this cramped patient room.
Ravenswood Hospital had long been a pillar of the north side Chicago community before being embroiled in controversy. The original hospital was built in 1907, but by the 1990s had expanded to meet community demands. The hospital had just under one thousand beds at its apex. It also included ambulatory care, a psychiatric unit, rehabilitation, oncology, coronary care, trauma ward, nursing school and student residence on site the 7.5 acre site.
The hospital fell on hard times during the 1990’s as HMOs, insurance companies, Medicare and Medicaid began cutting costs wherever they could. Advocate Health Care purchased the flailing hospital in 1998 much to the chagrin of community members and hospital staff. Blair, the hospital president and CEO who had weathered the Christopher Sercye debacle, said “In the weeks to come we hope everyone will agree that this move has great potential for employees and will enhance our ability to serve the community.” Almost immediately Advocate began consolidating medical services with other are hospitals it owned. Despite the drastic cuts the hospital managed to operate at a $35 million loss in 2001 alone. Ravenswood’s closing could not have come at a worse time as a number of historic Chicago area hospitals, such as Edgewater, were closing their doors. When Advocate finally sold the hospital they salted the earth by including a non-compete clause forbidding new owners to operate a medical facilty.
Photo: An X-Ray machine on the top floor scorched by fire.
A majority of the hospital was closed off while other parts were rented to various tenants. Ravenswood may limp along until its ultimate demise, but its death makes way for new life. Private school Lycée Français de Chicago plans on demolishing the entire complex in 2013 to make way for a new building. If the school is able to raise the necessary funds they will occupy their new home by 2015.
There are currently 50 million Americans who do not have health insurance coverage. Even those who are insured risk being dropped by insurance companies should they incur medical bills. As Americans we pay not only a financial cost, but also a social cost (PDF) when profit is placed over health and well-being.
Photo: The state of Illinois would like to move this property that sits opposite downtown Chicago.
The colloquial “Damen Silos” harken back to an era when Chicago was a big player in the grain trade. The land on which the grain elevator lords over has been in use since the early 1800’s. In 1832 a fire broke out at the grain elevator and then rebuilt with with concrete. Disaster struck again on September 9, 1905 when spontaneous combustion killed several workers and consumed the entire building within an hour. Immediately thereafter architect John S. Metcalf was commissioned to build the current elevator.
Photo (source): View of the grain elevator looking northeast.
The John S. Metcalf Company, consulting engineers, designed and built this facility for the Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe Railroad in 1906. The original complex included a powerhouse, elevator with temporary storage and processing silos, and thirty-five grain storage silos. With a 400,000 bushel capacity, this complex could accommodate sixty railroad cars at the elevator and 300 railroad cars at a yard a short distance away. Equipmentat the site included two driers, bleachers, oat clippers, cleaners, scourers and dust packers. Using filtered water from the adjacent South Branch of the Chicago River, boilers with a total of 1,500 horsepower generated the steam and electricity required bythemachinery. The thirty-five grain silos south of this facility had a total capacity of one million bushels. In 1932, a grain dust explosion ignited a fire which destroyed the original timber and brick building. The Atchison Topeka & Santa Fe Railroad rebuilt the concrete processing house with fourteen reinforced concrete silos; the capacity of the facility was increased to 1,700,000 bushels. After reconstruction, the rail road leased the facility to the Stratton Grain Company.
Photo: (source): Drawing of the grain elevator from around 1908.
In 1977 another large explosion caused significant damage to the grain elevator. Afterwards the location fell into disuse and became property of the state. The real estate company charged with selling the property states “the property was owned by the state who wanted seventeen million for it and it didn’t sell. They have lowered it to eleven million, but they are only willing to sell it in one big chunk.” In this economic downturn it is highly unlikely that this waterfront property will move anytime soon.
Photo: A lone abandoned Oldsmobile Eighty-Eight hides below the view of the Chicago skyline.
The silos were the last location of the day during this urbex expedition. The sun was fast fading and we were a bit fatigued. Other urbex explorers have braved several stories of rickety stairs with missing platforms to get shots from the top of the cavernous silos. I wasn’t having any of that. I had already broken my tripod handle and slipped on some ice. My urbex partner lost a lens cap and broke his tripod leg. We were content with just standing in awe of the colossal monument to human industry.
The monumental Brach’s candy factory in Chicago is a crumbling shrine to “The World’s Candy Capital.” Perhaps more appropriately though, the colossal factory is a tombstone marking the agonizing death of the American Dream. The factory is a well-known urbex location in the greater Chicago area. It was a great thrill to finally get to explore it physically. Before I delve into that let’s explore the factory intellectually.
German immigrant Emil J. Brach was an ambitious 22 year-old when he came to Chicago in 1881 to work for the Bunte Brothers & Spoehr candy manufacturers. The spendthrift Brach saved $15,000, which he invested into a candy company that quickly went under. Learning from his mistakes Brach rolled up his sleeves and took matters into his own hands. In 1904 the 45 year-old Brach invested $1000 and opened his own “Palace of Sweets” at the corner of North Avenue and Towne Street. With the help of sons Edwin and Frank, Brach attracted locals by making the delicious sweets in a single kettle in the rear of the store and placing them in attractive displays in the front. Customers craved Brach’s popular caramel in particular, which at 20 cents per pound was much cheaper than retailers’ 50-60 cents per pound. To keep up with demand Frank Brach delivered sweets to local department stores for customer convenience.
Photo: The beautiful terrra cotta Brach’s logo outside the abandoned factory.
The Brach’s company would move three more times between 1906 and 1913 to keep up the rapid expansion of their operations. Shipping was vital to their ever growing business. The company dispatched candy via horse, vehicle, mail-order and even by rail. The company’s widening markets expanded along with their burgeoning product line. Within that early growth period Brach’s added hard candies, ice cream, chocolates and nut products to their repertoire. In 1923 Brach consolidated operations into a $5 million facility designed by architect Alfred Alschuler at the intersection of Kilpatrick, Ferdinand, and the Beltline railroad tracks. At that time the company produced over 250 candy variations at about 4 million pounds per week. During the boom years Brach hired workers of all ethnic backgrounds. For years company notices were printed in multiple languages.
Photo (source): A Brach’s employee overlooks the panning procedure that gives hard candy its lustre.
Managing Brach’s reputation for quality was a top priority for the company. They were the first candy producer to implement a “Laboratory for Control” to inspect products. All candies came with a 30-day money-back guarantee and were shipped in special containers to assure freshness.
At the height of the Great Depression Brach’s was able to post a net income of $175,000 even with a dismal $1.27 million in sales, all while keeping more than 1000 people employed. The company was the first to grant employees raises during the severe economic downturn. They also served meals at cost to keep their employees well fed and motivated. During World War II the company was given the Army & Navy Production Award for the high-quality rations produced for the troops. 327 Brach’s employees served in the Armed Forces during the war effort and eight made the ultimate sacrifice for their country. On September 7, 1948 an electrical spark ignited corn starch and caused an explosion on the third floor. The explosion destroyed much of the north side of the factory. The disaster injured 18 and killed 11 employees, but occurred before the day shift before 2,400 employees began.
Emil J. Brach worked vigorously until the day he died in 1947 at age 88. By that time Emil positioned Brach’s as the #1 bulk producer of candy in the US. Sons Edwin and Frank took over operations after their father’s passing. They tapped into the exploding middle-class market by positioning attractive candy displays in groceries and purchasing ads on television. The Brach brothers didn’t lose their nostalgia for their old shop either. In 1958 they introduced the signature “Pick-A-Mix” kiosks which are still present in modern supermarkets. Edwin passed away at the age of 70 in 1965 leaving his brother Frank in charge. By the 1960’s Brach’s produced over 500 individual types of candies. Unable to keep pace on his own, an aging 75 year-old Frank Brach put the company up for sale in 1966 and it was purchased by American Home Products.
Photo: One of the few remaining markers identifying the building owner.
Frank’s death in 1970 left wife Helen at the helm of the Brach’s candy fortune. Helen Brach visited the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota on February 17, 1977 and was never heard from again. Investigations into the millionaire’s disappearance failed to yield any conclusive evidence as to her whereabouts and she was officially declared dead in 1984. It wasn’t until 1989 that a federal investigation into horse racketeering turned the focus to her then lover Richard Bailey. Bailey had conned Brach into investing in horses and their relationship soured when Helen discovered the scam. Bailey was eventually convicted in 1994 of multiple counts of fraud and conspiracy to commit murder in connection with Helen’s disappearance. In 2005 accomplice Joe Plemmons came forward to authorities describing his role in the crime. According to Plemmons, he fired two rounds rounds into the visibly beaten body of Helen Brach. Plemmons then escorted two accomplices to an active steel mill off of Interstate 65. Two steel mill employees held blast furnace doors open when Helen Brach’s corpse was fed into a trough and incinerated.
Acquisition of the Brach’s brand traded hands over the past few decades. In 1987 American Home Products sold Brach’s to european candy and coffee producer James Suchard. Principle stockholder Klaus J. Jacobs sold Suchard off to Philip-Morris in 1990, but retained ownership of the Brach’s business units. In 1994 Jacobs merged Brach’s with another property he purchased, Brock Candy Company, to form Brach & Brock Confections, Inc. Ownership changed hands again in 2003 when Brach & Brock Confections, Inc. was sold to the world’s largest chocolate manufacturer Barry-Callebaut headquartered in Zürich, Switzerland.
Photo (akagoldfish): The abandoned factory as seen from the cracking parking lot.
The Chicago factory fell on hard times in the late 1990’s and early 2000’s. Artificially inflated domestic sugar costs and strict import quotas put in place by the US Department of Agriculture made operating costs in Chicago difficult for Brach’s. (These policies have essentially crippled candy production throughout the United States.) High labor costs also exacerbated the situation to the point where the owners decided to shutter the aging plant. Brach’s began laying off employees in 2001 and gradually continued until 2003. After 76 years in operation the “Palace of Sweets” closed its doors. Production of Brach’s candies resumed in Mexico where labor and sugar are more cost effective.
Video: Amateur video of the Brach’s administration building demolition.
Photo: Scene from The Dark Knight. Copyright Warner Brothers.
In August of 2007 the location was used as a set for filming The Dark Knight. The former parking deck was completely demolished in the scene in which the Joker destroys Gotham General Hospital. The factory can also be seen in the shot (far left), which was also rigged to fire explosives from the windows. The final scene from the Dark Knight can be viewed here.
Photo: A lone sign warns factory explorers of the dangerous wet floor.
Soon after filming occurred Brach’s Confections was sold to current owners Farley & Sathers for an undisclosed sum in November 2007. The sale includes current manufacturing facilities located in Chattanooga, Tennessee; Winona, Minnesota; and Linares, Mexico. After four years without a tenant ML Realty Partners, LLC purchased the vacated Chicago factory in 2008 for redevelopment into a warehouse. Visible progress on that project has not materialized.
Photo: The Chicago skyline can be seen in the background of the factory.
The abandoned Brach’s candy factory, much like the Barber-Colman plant, impressed me with its sheer magnitude. We were there for four hours before recognizing the time. Even after all that exploring we still failed to traverse much of the factory. Despite the immense size of the factory most areas were barren or cloaked in darkness enitrely. Almost every possible surface has been covered by taggers in a bid for some kind of street-cred. The upper floors in one of the larger towers are all but inaccessible without the aid of proper climbing equipment. The exteriors are perhaps the most visually engaging elements of the factory. If you are looking for photographic gems the total number of opportunities are sparse. In my opinion the Brach’s factory has a sweeter history than adventure potential. I’m quite satisfied, however, that I checked this off my urbex list before it disappears entirely.
Wikipedia – Entry for missing Brach’s heiress Helen Brach.
Super Fictional Bonus!
Editor’s Note: The following biographical information about Emil J. Brach cannot be confirmed by legitimate academic resources. This excerpt from the 1996 book “Germans are Bad-Ass: A Compendium of Bad-Assery Throughout History Minus Hitler” is considered to be a complete fabrication.
Brach’s candy is synonymous with joyfully delicious candy, but few are aware of Emil J. Brach’s sinister motives for creating sugary sweets. As a German, Brach’s love for fine chocolate was surpassed only by Schadenfreude. Emil had a troubled upbringing as a child. His father Augustus was a dentist obsessed with hygiene, but is also described by sources as a vitriolic alcoholic with foul temperament. Brach’s mother Gerta was a strict Protestant who severely punished young Emil for the slightest infraction. In her mid-40’s Gerta was diagnosed with diabetes mellitus, which up until the 1930’s was considered a death sentence. The diagnosis crushed Augustus and sent him into a sustained alcohol-fueled depression. Emil took great pleasure in seeing his oppressive mother robbed of her strength, particularly after she ate her secret stash of chocolate sweets. Gerta eventually slipped into a coma and passed away after a lengthy ordeal. The next day Augustus was struck by a carriage and passed away from the sustained injuries. With his parents out of the way, Emil vowed to immigrate to the land of opportunity to exact Schadenfreude from dentists and diabetics by carefully crafting a seemingly benevolent sweets empire.
Wisconsin has a strong cultural background in agriculture. One of Wisconsin’s first attempts at providing technical education resulted in the Milwaukee County School of Agriculture and Domestic Economy in Wauwatosa. The site of the former high school enjoys protected status on the National Register of Historic Places, State Register of Historic Places, and is a Milwaukee County Landmark. According to the Google Map above it may look like there is plenty of activity at the location, but in reality the buildings have been long abandoned. The roads leading up to the campus were stripped away after the satellite image was taken.
In 1912 Milwaukee County had the largest rural populations in the state and opened the School of Agriculture and Domestic Economy. To build the school the county purchased 206 acres of land five miles west of downtown Milwaukee for $72,100 (or $350/acre). Milwaukee architect Alex C. Eschweiler was tapped to design the main campus Neo-Gothic style facilities. Structures for the school include four class buildings, one administration building, a dormitory, power house, barn, greenhouses, poultry sheds, and other smaller buildings.
Photo (source): The five buildings designed by Eschweiler. The building to the far right in the photo has been demolished.
The high school focused on areas of study specific to agriculture. Students were given hands-on technical training, such as this practical example of how to build a farm shed. Graduates of the school were given a leg up for enrollment in the University of Wisconsin System thereafter. Milwaukee Country residents could attend the school free of charge, while non-residents paid $27 for tuition. Heavy advertising and early momentum lead to strong enrollment for the 1912-13 school year with 243 students. By the next 1913-14 school year, however, enrollment dropped to 206. 1914-15 saw enrollment precipitated further to 191. Average class attendance rates were even less than that ranging from 118-146 (source). Attendance dwindled continuously until 1928 when Milwaukee County concluded that it could no longer justify the cost of operating the school.
Photo (source): The area around the campus buildings has incredible biodiversity.
In 2007 then county executive (and current WI Governor) Scott Walker (R) opened the buildings for use by SWAT officers to host a training conference. This decision drew the ire of local preservationists attempting to save the location. One report states that paintballs were fired and caused damage to some of the interiors.
As of December 2010 the University of Wisconsin Milwaukee made a significant move to develop the site as an Innovation Park. The UWM group plans on making installments totaling $13.55 million to be paid by 2014. The Eschweiler designed buildings are expected to be sold to a private group for conversion into apartments. There are skeptics that have been quite vocal about the infeasibility of the impending sale. For better or worse, the sale of the property mandates renovation of the Eschweiler designed buildings. Another groups of environmentalist critics seek to defend the property because it is part of the threatened Monarch Trail.
Photo (source): The monarch butterfly uses the yellow shaded portion that borders the school as a stop on their migration towards Mexico.
Photo (source): Beautiful park area surrounding the school.
While researching this location online sourcesmention that these buildings were later used as a tuberculosis clinic and/or mental hospital. The location is often conflated with the Muirdale Sanitorium, which is now a part of the Milwaukee County Research Park. Groups interested in preserving the location make no mention of the location being used for medical activities when writing about the history. Another general misunderstanding about the former School of Agriculture buildings involves the closest structure to the site, which is currently occupied by the Milwaukee County Parks Department. This structure actually used to be the location of the the Milwaukee Home for Dependent Children in the 1940’s. These mistakes are forgivable, but the websites that claim the School of Agriculture is haunted do this location a severe disservice to its history.
The campus buildings have signs stating that the area is under surveillance. The doors are either bricked off or bolted shut. To prevent access even the highest windows are boarded up. When I first visited in April of 2008, however, one of the doors was wide open. We wandered through the building and found mostly emptiness. Unfortunately my point and shoot camera battery died, so I don’t have very many photos. The ones that I was able to take are of poor quality due to the darkness. After we explored the first building I wondered about how we could make it into the others. My gut told me that each building may be connected via a network of tunnels. We went to the basement and my instincts proved to be correct. There really wan’t a whole lot left on the inside. Some of the buildings had power and a few lights on. One had an operational telephone closet running in it. The most interesting though was the administration building. At the very top is a beautiful chapel, which has been covered in graffiti. I returned a few months later in 2008 only to find my means of ingress had been bolted shut. Whatever the future has in store for this location the park area is a great place to spend an afternoon.
All Business – Article detailing SWAT exercises at the location in 2007.
The abandoned 65-acre Barber-Colman factory complex is a sprawling 795,000 square foot facility that is currently under demolition by the city of Rockford, Illinois. When I first discovered the site I had no idea that it had such an engaging history. Many of the things we consider modern conveniences were developed by the man who made this factory possible.
At the young age of 17 Howard D. Colman invented a warp drawing machine, which is used to automate the weaving of cotton into patterns. A local lumberman, W.A. Barber, invested $100 so Colman could transform his wooden prototype into iron and steel. With that initial investment the Barber-Colman company was founded. In 1894 the prodigious inventor was granted his first patent for a instrument that measured the flow of milk. This early success, along with the 149 patents eventually granted to Colman over the years, were key in building Barber-Colman. Colman, however, was quite a humble man and often attributed his inventions to his financial backer Barber. He is described in Jon Lundin’s book The Master Inventor as a man who always took the stairs. Photographs of Colman were so rare that employees would pass him by completely oblivious as to who he was.
Photo: The design was submitted by Howard D. Colman himself in 1939.
Photo (source): An arial view of the factory complex taken in 1962.
The Barber-Colman factory constructed its first building on the banks of the Rock River and was operational by 1902. By 1916 the company owned the two city blocks and built even more structures to keep pace with market demand. Colman wisely diversified the companies offerings. Products included handheld tools, garage door openers, oscillating fans, office machines, hardness check pumps, plastics manufacturing, air conditioning, avionics, textile hand knotters, milling cutters, gear hobbing machines and of course the warp drawing machine. Investors were not to keen on Colman’s consumer electronics endeavors, but the diversification kept the company solvent all throughout the Great Depression. As with any major industrial business during World War II the company contracted with the US government to make avionics.
Photo (source): A Barber-Colman engineer with a computer that used vacuum tubes for data storage.
Taking innovative risks in a variety of markets paid off for the Barber-Colman company. Allied engineers turned their wartime computing innovations to the private sector after World War II. Computer pioneer George Stibitz built a prototype gear hob control computer in 1950 which was used briefly at Barber-Colman. This computer was one of the earliest to use binary bits to store and process data. (Note: The computer you are using right now is built on that very innovation.) Although they were one of the earliest examples of American businesses using electronic computers, the company decided not to invest in the unproven technology.
Photo: Data punchcards bearing the Barber-Colman logo.
In 1980 the Barber-Colman company decided to relocate their headquarters just north of Rockford, Illinois. The Reed-Chatwood textile company purchased the building in 1984 and held operations there for a few years. Reed-Chatwood did not find the same level of success that Barber-Colman enjoyed at the location and ceased operations in 1996. The property was then put up for auction. The new owners created a business incubator and leased the space out to smaller industrial and office tenants. The venture was eventually shut down in 1999 after the owners failed to pay for utilities. In 2002 the city of Rockford purchased the abandoned property for $775,000 for redevelopment. The city has shown the property to several potential investors, but so far nothing of substance has materialized. In 2009 a fire broke out on the third floor in some of the office spaces. The fire department was able to contain most of the damage to the third floor.
Photo: A lone chair sits alone on one of the massive production floors.
Video: Volunteers rescuing files for preservation from one of the upper floors of the long abandoned factory.
An impressive array of Barber-Colman files were discovered on the 6th floor of one of the buildings after Rockford purchased the property. In 2008 thirty volunteers organized to move 1000 drawings and 500 binders containing Barber-Colman history. The Midway Village Museum is currently cataloguing the find as part of Rockford’s history. Although the Barber-Colman factory is a vital piece of industrial history, it now looms silently next to the Rock River.
Photo: Warning sign on the freight elevator.
This urbex trip turned out to be one of the most intellectually satisfying I have ever been on. I discovered the site late on a Saturday evening and called friends immediately. I just had a gut feeling about it. We arrived at the location early Sunday morning and were instantly awestruck. The volume of subject matter to photograph were overwhelming as we meandered through the buildings. Along the way we came across old machinery, vintage computer technology, some Barber-Colman products, blueprints, personal photos, and other office materials. We even met another photographer who was taking senior photos and a homeless person named Rob. After six hours on-site the sun began to set and we left thoroughly exhausted. There were maybe two or three structures left that we just did not have time to explore.
Photo: Uncut steel slugs for wrenches.
When it comes to urbex I am very conservative. I do my research, contact people who have been to a location, ask pertinent questions, and sometimes scout a location prior to going into it. That was not the case this time around and it heightened the anticipation. It was a kind euphoric rush that I have not felt since my first urbex experience. It was not until I got home that I discovered just how influential this urbex location was. I am grateful that I had a chance to explore it before the factory completely disappears in the coming months.
Colman was a humble genius inventor on par with Edison or Ford, but without the fanfare or celebrity. He genuinely cared for his employees and saw to their welfare by organizing recreational outings, a company band, and sports teams. He also took the steps necessary to insure they kept their jobs during economic depressions. If only the same could be said for today’s business leaders.
In American public schools Henry Ford gets credited with inventing the assembly line. He’s touted as an American hero for figuring out that dividing labor into small specialized tasks could maximize output and drive down production cost. If you believe this story, you are complicit with the oversimplification of American history. By his own words, Henry Ford cites the meat packing industry in his autobiography My Life and Work for giving him inspiration to work with an assembly line.
Photo: On the main floor of the plant.
The truth of the matter is that the meat packing industry beat Ford to the assembly line punch. Philip Danforth Armour had every bit of meat processing down to a science. Armour’s competitive edge over other meat packers was to use ever bit of the animal “except the squeal.” The Armour product catalog included not just meat, but also adhesives, fertilizer, drugs, industrial chemicals and even Dial soap.
When Armour and Company were founded in 1867, refrigerators did not exist. Meat had to be processed by a local butcher, sold, and consumed in a relatively short amount of time. One of the largest costs associated with meat packing was shipping the animal live via rail to the location it would be slaughtered. The rail lines of the time made massive profits shipping cattle as railways expanded westward towards California. Armour saw an opportunity in this vastly inefficient system. Adapting one of his chief competitor’s ideas to refrigerate meat, Armour built their own fleet of refrigerated boxcars to ship processed meat all across the country. Armour had 12,000 refrigerated boxcars in operation at its peak. This innovation had a cascade of benefits for the consumer. Not only could meat be purchased cheaper, but could also be kept fresh for longer periods. Other food companies quickly adopted refrigeration and raised food quality standards nationwide.
Photo: One of the massive refrigeration generators still at the Armour plant.
Photo: Wheel on one of the refrigerator generators. Notice the intricate lattice work painted on. How many heavy industrial machines still have that personalized level of detail?
The Armour Packing Plant is a massive industrial complex surrounded by dense vegetation just to the north of East St. Louis, Illinois in what is known as National City. Getting into the location is fairly easy, though you MUST bring a partner with you. There are many holes and rickety steel platforms on the first floor that can lead to a nasty fall. Getting up to the higher floors is a bit tricky. The main stairwell for one side of the plant is missing the first few steps and has a nice twenty foot drop to the basement. Again, bring a partner. If it wasn’t for my urbex safety buddy I would have never been talked into actually making the climb.
Photo: Slaughtering room lined by tile. Moss now grows over most of the floor.
There are rail lines on each side of the factory. On the back side is a complex to remove cattle from boxcars as they arrived. The cattle were moved to the slaughtering room on the top floor pictured above. From this point the carcasses were stripped of flesh, cut into pieces, and sent to specialized rooms. There is an intricate series of doors, tubes, and other means of transport to move the product throughout the factory. Everything eventually made its way to the first floor, where it was packed into boxcars on the opposite side of the factory.
Photo: The Gateway Arch in St. Louis across the Mississippi River. Photo taken from the roof. The building immediately across the street is owned by Little Ceaser’s Pizza.
Armour and Company began production at this site in 1903 and it stayed open until 1959. The company languished after World War II and its assets were eventually sold off. Dial soap, perhaps Armour’s most lucrative product, is still in production to this day by another company. Armour eventually donated this factory to the city of St. Louis, where it sits unattended to this day.
Photo: A young owl standing only a few feet away. It was about 18″ tall and the talons were intimidating.
Exploring the abandoned Armour Meat Packing Plant was quite satisfying. My friend Drew and I found something new around every turn. There were also plenty of clues in each room to make an educated guess about what that specific area was used for. In the course of exploring the factory we came across two owls. The first one was much larger than the one pictured above. It swooped down and held its wings out while clicking its beak. Unfortunately, I didn’t manage to get close enough to snap a decent photo of it. Later we made our way up a large steel staircase to the uppermost part of the factory. Drew told me to freeze and turn around very slowly. When I turned, I said that I couldn’t see anything, and then it was there. We were only a few feet from a large young owl. My partner descended the stairs slowly, but I stayed behind, slowly raised my camera and started snapping photos. My heart was absolutely pounding at this point.
Urbex gives me a rush every time I stumble upon a new location. I want to see everything it has offer and photograph it. But, there is a level of adrenaline that you become acclimated to when you do urbex enough. Running into the owls was a high unlike any other. It was unnexpected. It was natural. It was dangerous. It was the highlight of the day.
East St. Louis-which the local press refers to as “an inner city without an outer city”-has some of the sickest children in America. Of 66 cities in Illinois, East St. Louis ranks first in fetal death, first in premature birth, and third in infant death. Among the negative factors listed by the city’s health director are the sewage running in the streets, air that has been fouled by the local plants, the high lead levels noted in the soil, poverty, lack of education, crime, dilapidated housing, insufficient health care, unemployment. Hospital care is deficient too. There is no place to have a baby in East St. Louis. The maternity ward at the city’s Catholic hospital, a l00-year-old structure, was shut down some years ago. The only other hospital in town was forced by lack of funds to close in 1990. The closest obstetrics service open to the women here is seven miles away. The infant death rate is still rising.
As in New York City’s poorest neighborhoods, dental problems also plague the children here. Although dental problems don’t command the instant fears associated with low birth weight, fetal death or cholera, they do have the consequence of wearing down the stamina of children and defeating their ambitions. Bleeding gums, impacted teeth and rotting teeth are routine matters for the children I have interviewed in the South Bronx. Children get used to feeling constant pain. They go to sleep with it. They go to school with it. Sometimes their teachers are alarmed and try to get them to a clinic. But it’s all so slow and heavily encumbered with red tape and waiting lists and missing, lost or canceled welfare cards, that dental care is often long delayed. Children live for months with pain that grown-ups would find unendurable. The gradual attrition of accepted pain erodes their energy and aspiration. I have seen children in New York with teeth that look like brownish, broken sticks. I have also seen teen-agers who were missing half their teeth. But, to me, most shocking is to see a child with an abscess that has been inflamed for weeks and that he has simply lived with and accepts as part of the routine of life. Many teachers in the urban schools have seen this. It is almost commonplace.
There is some hope for current East St. Louis residents as the area is now served by the Kenneth Hall Regional Hospital. In a city where the median income is ~$26,000/household I doubt most residents have the luxury of having health insurance. A national health care option would have greatly improved the quality of life in the area, but the healthcare reforms passed this year fall short of offering such an option.
In December 2009 my grandmother passed away and the funeral was in St. Louis. I had some time before the service to drive through East St. Louis. Passing by the Gateway Community I noticed how easily it would have been to gain access through the ground level windows. By the time I returned in March 2010 a fence around the perimeter of the hospital had been erected. Plastic now lined the windows on the eastern wing and it appears that asbestos abatement is underway. In the parking lot was a pickup truck with a security guard keeping a close eye on us as we encircled the hospital on foot. It was a bit of a let down, as I had scheduled my day around exploring the hospital. News reports indicate that this former hospital building is indeed coming down. I was glad to get a few shots of it before it is completely gone.