Words to Travel By:

“Bizarre travel plans are dancing lessons from God.” – Kurt Vonnegut

"We can't be lost.  We're making such good time." – a friend

"I've been absolutely terrified every moment of my life - and I've never let it keep me from doing a single thing I wanted to do."  – Georgia O'Keeffe [Because bridges are my kryptonite.]

“Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one's lifetime.” - Mark Twain


Elkhart Cemetery

Elkhart Cemetery in Elkhart, IL was created as a private family cemetery (which explains the private bridge over the road to make the cemetery directly accessible from the family's estate). Some of Illinois' most prominent citizens and Lincoln contemporaries found their final rest there including Governor (and Senator) Richard Oglesby (1824-1899). The Chapel of St. John the Baptist on the cemetery grounds is now the only privately owned chapel in the state.



Elk Fall, Kansas




No Trespassing

Just to be clear, many, but not all of the abandoned buildings I photograph are still on private property.  There are fences; there are signs; there are even occasionally dogs.  When a property is posted "No Trespassing" I respect that.  I photograph with a telephoto lens and keep a respectful distance.  In any case, I leave nothing but footprints and take nothing but photographs.


Modern Ghost Towns

Most ghost towns result from slow attrition.  Some, however, happen all at once, suddenly and dramatically.  Picher and Cardin in Oklahoma and their neighbor, Treece, Kansas, which all huddle together in the corner where the states meet, are three such towns.  For decades, these towns produced zinc and lead for industry.  The chat piles grew and towered above the towns; the mine tunnels gridded the earth below.  Picher, Cardin, and Treece became physically unstable, prone to subsidence from the tunnels, and extremely toxic from the heavy metals in the chat, the air, and the groundwater.  A few years ago, these towns became superfund clean-up sites.  Picher's local government disbanded, surrendered the town's incorporation, and left.  The fire station is abandoned and the emergency siren rusts on a pole outside. A single business, a pharmacy, remains in operation. Dump trucks go about the business of demolition and remediation and the area is regularly patroled by the Quapaw (say O-GAH-PAW) Tribal Police department, but otherwise there is little to suggest a lingering human presence.  Most of the residents accepted buy-outs, some willingly, some reluctantly and only after a tornado a few years ago. 

The houses are being systematically stripped of anything salvagable, then razed.  Down some streets there are tell-tale slabs, but in other places even the paving is gone.  Only the streetlights hint at what used to be.  Down one of those streets, the Picher Mining Museum, now empty, sits alone, a final ironic nod to the fact that the god of creation is also the god of destruction.

For more on what led me to Picher, see this story in the Los Angeles Times.