Photo: The main entrance to Horace Mann High School boarded up.
The now abandoned Horace Mann High School served the Gary community from 1928 to 2004. The building takes its namesake from the progressive education reformer Horace Mann who advocated many of the things taken for granted in modern schools. As editor of the Common School Journal Mann advocated for public funding of public education, that public education be secular, available regardless of sex or race, that teachers be accredited, and that education focus on supporting American democratic ideals. Mann also recognized the importance of an expanded curriculum, comfortable learning facilities, and providing instructional material. During his lifetime these controversial ideas were considered a radical departure from the status quo. Most Americans today would not disagree with Mann’s basic assumptions about education.
Photo: Horace Mann High School postcard with a waterfront scene. (Source: Ancestry.com)
In the early years though the Horace Mann building served grades 1 to 12. During those formative years middle and high school students were organized using the platoon system implemented by Gary Schools Superintendent William Albert Wirt. Wirt was a conservative progressive who sought to maximize education resources and applied business theory to their organization. The “platoon system” alternated the amount of time students spent with regular and specialized teachers. Course work not only included the fundamentals of reading, writing, and arithmetic, but also vocational studies specifically designed to give students demonstrable skills.
Photo: Horace Mann in 1950. Notice the pond waterfront, which is now a parking lot. (Source: Children of the Mill: Schooling and Society in Gary, Indiana, 1906-1960.)
Wirt’s platoon system became internationally famous and was dubbed the Gary System. It even garnered the praise of influential progressive education reformer John Dewey. Lawrence A. Cremin writes in his 1961 book The Transformation of the School, that “Wirt’s notion was not only to afford each child vastly extended educational opportunity–in playgrounds, gardens, libraries, gymnasiums and swimming pools, art and music rooms, science laboratories, machine shops and assembly halls–but to make the school the true center of the artistic and intellectual life of the neighborhood.” (Source: Quote found in Blueprint for Change by David J. Hoff.) Wirt’s education system remained in place until his passing in 1938. By 1940 the school would abandon the platoon system of organization and assign one teacher per class.
Photo: Auditorium seating photo taken by re-Verse.
At the very heart of Horace Mann is a spacious auditorium. Every Horace Mann student spent some portion of their school day in this room engaged in an academic activity. After school hours the auditorium played host to community meetings, extra-curricular events, PTA, and even screenings of Hollywood movies for 10 cents. All of the other academic rooms, with the exception of the modern gymnasium, physically surround the auditorium. For the community at large Horace Mann was a vital organ of the city of Gary.
Photo: The science labs had a lot of equipment left behind. Unfortunately vandals have destroyed much of it.
When we arrived at the site of Horace Mann I had significant doubts about gaining access. The first floor windows were entirely boarded up. All of the steel doors around the perimeter were welded shut. Even for a Sunday morning there was significant activity in the area. We circled around the entire building and spotted two possible entry points. The first would have most likely caused deep cuts had I tried to squeeze through it. The second less obvious entry point was dirty, swarming with mosquitos, and required an acrobatic feat to get through. But get in we did.
Photo: A cross section of the human head in one of the science labs.
My urbex partner and I spent the next six and half hours wandering through the stiflingly humid halls. The enormity of it all was intimidating and yet so very fascinating. It took every ounce of strength to continue on after a full day of urbex the day before. Fatigue, intrigue, and adrenaline definitely impacted the quality of the photos I took. I’m thankful that I snapped so many shots because my camera SD card corrupted when I got home, effectively wiping out around 25% of the shots.
Photo: Apple II hardware was littered throughout the building. (Editor’s sidenote: As an Apple collector it saddened me to see so much good hardware go to waste. There were many IIe and II+ units.)
As a Bachelor of Education graduate, I found the Horace Mann building to be one of the most interesting urbex sites I have ever been to. Most of the damage within the building has not been done by the natural force of decay. It is clear from the exposed ceilings that metal strippers have taken anything of worth. A pile of ashen books set alight by some arsonist sits outside the administration office. A row of burned black seats no longer conforms to uniform red in the auditorium. The science labs are littered with smashed pyrex glass, unknown chemical substances, and preserved specimens. Old Apple computer equipment with the rainbow logo lies all around in hallways, gymnasiums, and classrooms. A disheveled teachers lounge was packed with visual aids, books, and prefabricated lesson plans. Trophies bearing the school’s victories were strewn throughout the building in odd places. Chalkboards bear the names of previous urban explorers, some of whom I recognize.
Photo: View of the modern gymnasium. Lack of climate control has severely warped the floor of the basketball court. This room was actually completely dark and the photo was created using a really long exposure. The light in the foreground is from Nick Forslund’s iPhone 4 LED while the brighter streaks of light are from my flashlight.
Video: Analog camcorder video digitized and uploaded by jrex66 on YouTube.
Roy Herold from the Class of 1964 has a touching farewell to Horace Mann in Gary’s West Side: The Horace Mann Neighborhood.
They may tear it down, but Horace Mann will live on until the last graduate passes from this earth, and even then the stories will have been passed to the next generation. Stories that tell of Gary’s Camelot that was once known as Horace Mann School.”
I did not graduate from Horace Mann, but I certainly will pass this story on. American Urbex exists to do just that.