Today’s Brew: Jamaica Me Crazy. Back to the Classics for spring.
Abandoned buildings, neglected and crumbling in disrepair, have always fascinated me. At one time, that building was someone’s home or business, brand new and full of hopes and dreams for the future. What made them give up on that structure? Did they plan to return, and that’s why they didn’t give it the proper burial of tearing it down? Or did they want all of us to know of its once proud history, not to forget?
One day I set out with my camera to photograph some of these places. To give them back the pride stolen from them. I soon learned I wasn’t alone in my fascination. Photographing these abandoned buildings is known as urban exploration. A friend and extremely talented photographer, Stephanie Pierce, introduced me to this community and showed me around one of her favorite places to explore, the abandoned Belchertown State School.
Crumbling on a sprawling campus in Western Massachusetts, the school is remembered for its inhumane and atrocious care of patients, as well as gross under-staffing. Many residents were disregarded by doctors, left to roll around naked in their own excrement, and forced into having homosexual intercourse by the staff. This was in the 20th century, folks. We’re not talking medieval times like Bethlehem Hospital. Some of this treatment continued until 1992, when the state forced the closing of the school.
On the day we visited, the campus was easily accessible and many of the buildings had open doors from prior break ins. We could easily see the old kitchen and library. The smell of a fire weeks earlier still hung heavy in the air. I asked Stephanie why the state left the campus to rot, a horrible reminder of past treatment of those with mental disabilities. She told me that the asbestos on the site had leaked into the ground, making it unsafe for use. She did also tell me that a developer had mentioned plans for a possible strip mall. Somehow, that seemed even more obscene to me. Covering up such horrors with inane capitalism.
In recent years, I haven’t had a chance to do as much exploring as I used to. Simply put, life got in the way. I’m thrilled that I was able to capture some local buildings before they were torn down. Unfortunately, I don’t have the wire to load the photos from my camera to the computer. Now that it’s spring (at least on the calendar. Brrr!), I think I may go out for some new explorations. It’s a piece of history you’ll never find in a text book, and it says way more about who we were as communities.
All photography courtesy SPierce Photography. Go check out her beautiful website and hire her for something. www.spiercephotography.com