Sunday, May 20, 2012

Ghostly Ruins

A friend recently gave me a coffee table book entitled Ghostly Ruins: America's Forgotten Architecture.  Obviously, this is a friend who understands my eccentricities.  I have always been fascinated by abandoned buildings, and author Harry Skrdla does a pretty good job of explaining why.  In the introduction to Ghostly Ruins, he writes: "Paradoxically, the most important thing about an abandoned structure is that at one time it was not abandoned.  A building that was constructed but never used is sterile - like a model home that is never lived in.  It's bereft of the echoes of laughing children, of pencil marks on a door frame charting growth spurts over the years, of oil stains on the garage floor.  A building like that is empty and lifeless.  It had no soul... [W]e recognize a building, consciously or not, as a place within which there is life.  That is what we care about, and that is why we are fascinated by abandoned places."  Every abandoned building has a story.  Often when I see one for the first time, my imagination starts running wild.  "You see," Skrdla explains, "it doesn't matter if ghosts are a real phenomenon, scientifically proven to the last decimal point.  Not for our purposes.  Because they exist inside our skulls, and that's what counts.  And only the least imaginative among us won't feel them lurking in the shadows, just out of sight."

The following photos represent places where the "ghosts" practically begged me to write about them (and I obliged).

I've been equally entranced by places like the great Saltair, the Queen Mary and especially the ghost town of Bodie.  Apart from Bodie, the only location from Ghostly Ruins that I've seen in person is the Eastern State Penitentiary in Philadelphia.... a site that deserves its reputation as one of the creepiest tourist destinations in the world.

The place has an appropriately sordid past.  In the 1800s it was the testing ground for "isolation therapy," a practice that drove several of its inmates mad.  The current board of directors is only too happy to perpetuate the idea that some of those inmates are still roaming the halls... Ghost stories are good for business.  No surprise, then, that portions of the movie 12 MONKEYS were shot here... or that M. Night Shyamalan's THE SIXTH SENSE was filmed in the same neighborhood.  I'd also be willing to bet that this place served as the main inspiration for the horror movie SESSION 9.

Skrdla claims that in addition to Eastern State Penitentiary, Philly has more abandoned buildings than any other U.S. city... which means more "ghost stories."  When I visited the city last year, I saw plenty of evidence to support that theory.  Here are a few "ghostly ruins" highlights from the trip, along with a couple of other random filming locations...

Anybody recognize this building from GHOSTBUSTERS?
You have to imagine it without the scaffolding...
... and transplanted into New York's Central Park.
Here's one of Philly's most recognizable movie locations...
All that's missing is the ROCKY statue at the top of the steps.

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