Posts Tagged ‘ Concrete City ’

Of Concrete City, Mermaids and Ghosts (both Past & Present) Part 2

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Concrete City 2011

Don’t ever believe the hype about anything.   Almost seventy-six  years ago, on September 13, 1938, Luzerne County’s well-respected news authority, The Sunday Independent, reported about a Ghost Town, called Concrete City, which had been, “left to the ravages of time and scurrying rats”, after a 15 year span  in limbo as an abandonment.

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Concrete City Still Standing in the New Millennium

What was the implied fear in 1938?  Concrete City had become a contradiction!  You see, historians seemed to be claiming that the city had become “only a memory”, yet, there it was, all up in your face. Concrete City had morphed into an apparition for all to witness!

These abandoned homes, once considered a model of modern efficiency, have even survived the dawn of a new millennium, remaining nestled in their wooded area on the boundary between Hanover Township and the city of Nanticoke, Pennsylvania, with their industrial-strength existence still generating a lot of interest, which is nothing new.  When these homes were first built, the local headlines exclaimed “Good-Bye To That Landscape Eyesore—The Mine Patch! Workmen’s Homes At Concrete City Are Virtual Villas” in the September 26, 1914 issue of the Times Leader.

Historical View of Concrete City

Historical View of Concrete City

And just in case anyone thinks that hanging out in the abandoned city is some new phenomenon, I’d like to share a blurb I found in the The Sunday Independent from November 18, 1945:

“A Nanticoke resident who had put his heating stove on the back porch last spring found it missing when he went out there to bring it into the house for the coming cold weather.  The cover was still up; however, giving the impression the stove had been there all the time.  He remembered that some youngsters have a “bunk” in one of the abandoned Concrete City houses and upon investigation found his heater there. “

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I’ve blogged about NEPA’s infamous Ghost Town, and constantly evolving street art gallery, several times. In fact, Concrete City was my first Guerrilla History post (and how I cringe when I look back at those pictures)!    I still love finding new information to share, not that it is necessarily “new” information– just new to faux historians, like me!  As mentioned in Part 1 of this blog entry, I recently visited the Luzerne County Historical Society to read a Wilkes College Archaeological Field Methods study from 1982.

Concrete City was opened in 1914 and was lived in by 40 families until it was abandoned in 1923.  Everyone living there had a male family member working at the Truesdale Colliery, just a ¼ mile walk away.  It was considered to be ahead of its time, despite the lack of indoor plumbing or heat and electricity.  So what was life really like in this community with homes described as “virtual villas”?

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According to that archaeological report, the city was built in the form of a rectangle with all of the houses facing inwards.  Four double block homes are located in the front, which mirrors the units at the back of the property, with eight units on each side.

There used to be a road of crushed shale rock circling the inside of the complex and a single tree was planted in front of each unit, creating a uniform line.  A lawn area was planted in front of the houses and each family was required to have a lawn mower.  Large community trash bins were located near the front of the complex.

Concrete City Historical View

Concrete City Historical View

The homes had dark green trimming and red chimneys.  Concrete walks led to the front and side doors.  Each building had French windows with flower boxes attached.  Hung above every front door by chains was a marquis roof.   A wooden coal shanty and outhouse were built at the rear of each unit, leaving ample space for flower or vegetable gardens.

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There was a central well located in the middle of the complex since there was no indoor plumbing.  Water was heated on kitchen stoves so the family members could bathe in a concrete tub located in the kitchen, which was also used to wash clothing.  The garments were then either hung outside when it was warm and dry, or put up “on lines in the enclosed, upstairs back porch during cold weather”.

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Also in the center of the complex was a baseball diamond, a tennis court and a playground with teeter totters, swings and gymnastic rings.  There was a concrete wading pool for kids and a waist deep, concrete swimming pool for adults.  These were the first in-ground pools built in Wyoming Valley.  The Times Leader described the scene in 1914:

“A circular swimming pool with constantly flowing water was installed in one corner of the big central square and on hot afternoons many of the children, some in improvised swimming costumes  and some with the alarming lack of them that characterizes the swimmin’ hole boy, disported themselves in its safety shallow waters. For there are between eighty and ninety children in Concrete City, and evidences of their presence abound.  Behind this house there is a child’s double seated swing.  In front of that, a benignant collie prowls and smiles upon the tumbling infants.  Even all the rag dolls are not taken in every night.”

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Sadly, some accounts say that the adult pool was filled in after a young boy drowned in it.

The city was occupied for nine years before closing.   The archaeological report says, “It was closed, because cracks had developed in a few of the buildings and there were many water and sewage draining problems that could not be resolved.  The Glen Alden Coal Company considered the installation of a sewage system much too costly and decided to shut down the village in 1923.”

The report also says that no evidence is left of the outhouses, coal shanties, playgrounds, a tennis court or baseball diamond.  But apparently in 1982 you could still see the pool.  I can’t say that I’ve personally seen any evidence of it these days and I think I know what may have eventually led to its demise.  According to an article in the Citizens’ Voice on April 19, 1979, “Beautiful Village Now Fire Training School”, the pool was cleaned out and filled with oil and various types of debris to teach firemen how to extinguish oil fires.  What an ironic after-life experience for the drowning victim, that is, if you follow (& believe in) shows about hunting for ghosts in abandoned places. Someone should call Zak Bagans about this!

I’m often contacted by amateur ghost hunters asking if I have knowledge of anyone passing away at abandoned places.  Thanks to the research efforts of genealogist, Plymouth Historical Society Board Member, historical preservationist and living historian, Amy Cargill Kirkpatrick, I have an actual obituary connected to Concrete City.

2-20-1922

Henry Slusser—Heart trouble caused the death Saturday afternoon of Henry Slusser at his home in Concrete City.  He was a former resident of Black Creek Township and is survived by his wife and two step children.  Harold Copeland, at home and Mrs. Walter Sherman of Wanamie; also two brothers, Roger and Rueben Slusser.  The funeral will be hold from the family home Wednesday afternoon at 2 o’clock.  Services will be held at the residence and interment and interment and Edge Hill Cemetery.

In terms of the little boy who drowned, the only newspaper information I was able to locate so far was a quote from a former resident in the Citizens’ Voice article mentioned above.  Another tidbit of information I gleaned from that article was that the homes were originally built for mining officials, but “as more imposing homes were built later for the officials, the concrete structures were rented to the better class of miners.”

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According to The Sunday Independent, July 23, 1939, “When the word went out to abandon the settlement, doors, windows and shelves were removed.  The concrete structures themselves have withstood the wear of the elements and still stand erect for the most part.  Only one has crumbled. “

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Not a whole lot of rapid change has occurred at Concrete City within the last 76 years.  You have to wonder if the space will ever get the opportunity to develop into something else.  While taking photos of mermaid inspired leggings for the creator of Skinny Jeans and Sippy Cups, Adrienne  Shellenberger (featured in Part 1), I said that I wished I could make a better connection between Concrete City and mermaids for my blog post.  Adrienne said, “That’s ok.  I like things that are random.  Besides, everything evolves from the sea.”  Maybe the fact that mermaids and artists have made their way to Concrete City is a sign that evolution is finally underway.

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Snow Mermaid at Concrete City–Don’t Miss Part 1

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Of Concrete City, Mermaids and the Ghost Town Stairs to Nowhere (Part 1)

…..with fellow blogger and snow mermaid, Adrienne Shellenberger

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It may be hard to believe now, but in 1982, just 59 years after closing the now abandoned housing development, Luzerne County’s infamous, real-life ghost town was the subject of a Wilkes College Archaeological Field Methods study because people had mostly forgotten about it!  Makes you wonder how mankind has managed to preserve facts about Ancient Egypt and cavemen when we can’t seem to keep track of local places and events from less than a hundred years ago, such as Concrete City, the Kirby Park Zoo, or an abandoned amusement park right off of Route 11!

Apparently, back in 1982, common misconceptions about the development, created out of concrete to house the families of high-level mining industry employees, included the belief that the dwellings were top secret barracks built by the U.S. Army, and that people never actually lived in the city.  But, as we  all know now, the abandoned housing complex was constructed in 1913 by the Delaware, Lackawanna and Western Railroad, and was occupied by forty families until 1923.

Locating the property today can prove to be quite a challenge if you don’t know where you are going.  I learned the hard way several years ago that the Historical Marker for Concrete City isn’t actually located near the ghost town.  The buildings themselves are just shells; and weeds, trash and trees cover much of the long abandoned village.

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But visiting Concrete City is so worth the trip!  I recently collaborated on a project involving product shots of mermaid inspired leggings with the creator of Skinny Jeans and Sippy Cups, Adrienne Shellenberger, at this location, and was motivated to dig into the history of the place a little more to see if I could learn anything new about these now prehistoric versions of modern tract housing.

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People contact me all of the time with questions about the abandoned housing complex because of previous blog posts.  The most often asked question is if anyone ever died at Concrete City (the answer is “yes”, and “more than once”, but more about that in part 2), and where the bathrooms were located.  One topic that no one ever asks about are the “stairs to nowhere” located in each dwelling on the second floor.  “I thought it was because they used the same “mold” for both floors”, stated Adrienne.   So did I, until deciding to look into documents discussing the interior room plans for the Concrete City houses.

Concrete City was designed by architect Milton Dana Morrill, who is most famous for several government buildings in Washington, D.C.  He is also responsible for other poured concrete homes which were built in the Washington, D.C. suburb of Virginia Highlands.  Morrill invented a system of steel molds to create trough-like boxes which could be filled with concrete to create a house.

Building Concrete City

Building Concrete City

The houses at Concrete City are “double block” style and they are mirror images of each other.  Each unit has eight rooms with a concrete floor basement.  There was no plumbing, electricity or heating in these homes, yet they were considered very modern during the early part of the twentieth century!

1st floor

Concrete City Historical Living Room

Concrete City Historical Living Room

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Concrete City Living Room/ Dining Room in December of 2013

The first floor has a living room, dining room and a kitchen with a pantry.  You can easily identify which room is the living room because that is where the front door was located.  Every kitchen, which contained a sink, wash basin and stationary wash tub, had a side entrance door.

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Concrete City Side Kitchen Door in January of 2014

Concrete City Historical Kitchen

Concrete City Historical Kitchen

The second floor of every unit had three bedrooms, three clothes closets and a linen closet in the hall.  And one report mentions “an upstairs porch facing the rear of the house” on the second floor.

2nd Floor Design

Take note of G, 3-step unused closet

The homes were heated on the first floor by a coal cooking stove in the kitchen, and a pot belly stove located between the living and dining rooms.

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Since concrete is slow to heat, the houses became very cold and damp in the winter.  According to that Wilkes Archaeological Field study, “To overcome the dampness, each unit had an elevated closet on the second floor, the closet being reached by three steps”.

Concrete City Fish Room

Concrete City 2nd Floor Stairs to Nowhere

In the film The Seven Year Itch, Marilyn Monroe may have said, “A stairway to nowhere! I think that’s just elegant”, but at Concrete City, elegance had nothing to do with it!  And I wonder if that is the second floor “porch” being referred to above, or is that another mystery yet to be solved?!

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While waiting for Part 2, be sure to check out Adrienne Shellenberger’s Concrete City inspired post about mermaid leggings for a post-apocalyptic world!

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The Huber Breaker Rocks –with ASTORIAN STIGMATA

“Standing at the edge where beauty meets decay

Re-born through death

Time fades away and leaves a memory

But that red sky rests so quite

Upon the ashes of innocence

And some things never really come alive

Until after they have died.”

–“The Beginning Of An End”  (ASTORIAN STIGMATA)

Huber Breaker Ruins:  The Art of Industrial DecayThe Huber Breaker in Ashley,  Pennsylvania, USA

Sometimes, engaging in urban exploration is like experiencing an alternative reality.   In these abandoned and often beloved structures, ghost-like representations of what “once was” collide head-on with their current state of decay and ruination, representing a dream-like status between existence and non-existence, somewhere in the middle of life and death.  

Naturally, a local band with a name based upon the concept of an alternative reality, combined with the imagery of open wounds, and the catch phrase “Stay Dead”, would conclude that one of Northeastern Pennsylvania’s most popular urban exploration sites would be the perfect setting for filming a music video or two!  

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But according to Astorian Stigmata founder and front man, Dennis Condusta, his hometown, which is referred to as the “Victorian Corner of Pennsylvania” on the band’s Facebook page, always stars in his videos.  “I’ve traveled extensively and it has really helped me notice that Wilkes-Barre is a truly unique place in many ways”, Dennis explains, “Most of them aren’t positive ways, but in the architectural sense, it really has a “decayed elegance” feel.  Like it was once a prospering place during the coal mine era and now it’s kinda run down, and somewhat dismal.  I noticed over the years that the message in my music was very similar to that.  I’ve always been drawn to the concept of once beautiful things fading away.  I know that they always can return.   It’s kind of a positive way to look at decay and things falling apart. And “Victorian Corner” is just a reference to a lot of the Victorian era architecture in the surrounding area of Wilkes-Barre. I’ve always been drawn to its class, and most of our records have Victorian era houses on the cover.”

While discussing the Astorian Stigmata video “Ballroom Dancing, Condusta said that their European fans often make comments about how much they love the look of the old historical stuff here in Pennsylvania.  “Most of those shots (in the video) were right in the downtown area, the apartments across from the River Front, and close up shots of the Sterling Hotel”, he stated, “And the European fans say things like “I’d love to visit Wilkes-Barre!” Ha-ha. I think it has a lot to do with the way it’s represented”, he explained, “We really romanticized the place in all our work.  And people from here never realize how truly unique and beautiful a lot of the things we have around here are, mostly things left over from the coal era.  If we become a bigger band it’s going to be a good thing for Wilkes-Barre tourism!  Ha-ha.  It always kinda bugged me how bands move away from their home to embrace the music scene other places or whatever, and that’s all fine.  But I see myself as an artist far before a musician who is trying to “make it” or anything like that.  So I do my best to represent the area I am from because it has played such a huge part in my artistic understanding of the world around me.”

Abandoned Hotel Sterling: The Harsh Light of DayThe Hotel Sterling ruins in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, USA

Condusta came up with the band name in 2003 while watching an HBO show called “Carnival”–specifically,  an episode titled “The Road to Astoria”, when he became intrigued by the idea of an alternative reality, but one  very similar to the one we know. That “alternative reality” notion  is the main reason I chose to write about Astorian Stigmata for my blog about urban exploration, because that is the very concept that urban explorers are trying to capture when they photograph the abandoned structures where people once lived, worked, played, worshipped, dreamed or suffered. 

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Condusta was drawn to the word Stigmata for its powerful look and strong pronunciation.  Which is a relevant choice, because the visual images portrayed in many of the band’s videos are both harsh and destructive.  Yet, in listening to the lyrics, you can’t miss the sentimental vibe—like a verbalized wish that life was less fragile and that people, places and things could be more permanent.  

Dennis explained that “most of my lyrics are about dualities.  Which is also why we use black and white stripes so consistently in our logo and branding—they represent the ups and downs of life, and that they are both equal, and both present at all times.”    Many of their song lyrics are quite philosophical, touching upon concepts such as being “re-born through death”, as in the lyrics of the one video filmed at the Huber Breaker.  “It refers to an existential death and coming back to life as a better person, but only after your old sense of self has died”, Dennis stated.  Fans consider the band’s catch phrase, “Stay Dead” and their entire “death” theme, as a metaphor for the kind of self-fulfillment that leads to happiness by remaining true to yourself.

In fact, staying true to themselves is even embraced by Astorian Stigmata in their business model, because they literally do everything themselves.  Dennis explains that being an “indie” band allows you to do things, your way, all the time, when you want. We’re pretty specific about what we are trying to say and do.”  According to Dennis, “I’ve always loved design/photography/hand printing t-shirts/video/editing/music recording/writing and production–even the hard work like hand making every CD. Our guitar player, DJ, is the same way. He  enjoys it all and we work well together as a team. We don’t call ourselves a “punk” band, but we carry that flag and ethic as hard as anyone.  Not because we want to, but because no one is gonna do anything for us.  We’ve been offered record deals and things, but we’re not dumb dudes in a band. We understand how business works, and how things happen, and that 90% of the industry side of music is there to fool you into making them money.”  

Condusta further explains that as an artist, his focus isn’t the same as that of a corporate business entity, only interested in creating mainstream conceptual “art” that is made popular for the purpose of selling it quickly, “We make lasting art. Songs we wrote 5 years ago have as much relevance now as they did then, and will still be relevant 20 years from now.”

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Dennis Condusta became interested in playing guitar at a young age, because his older brother also played.  As luck would have it, he won a guitar when he was 16, at a BMX riding contest.  He was influenced by the music of Modest Mouse (“Dramamine”) and Taking Back Sunday (“A New American Classic”) plus a strong desire to create his own music.   “I have no interest in learning cover songs.  I just knew I had a feeling inside me and I wanted to learn to get it out as fast as possible”, he said.  Dennis also states that his most important influences are his brother and his friends. 

Condusta, a life-long resident of this region, known for its working-class sensibilities, which are often hallmarked by the suppression of individualism, did note that this area sometimes has a lack of respect for a broad variety artistic expression.   Still, he credits this area for helping him to form his artistic vision, and openly accepts the responsibility and challenges required to act as the ambassador of his own vision, “I do not see that as their fault for misunderstanding me, I see it as my own fault for not doing a good enough job at being understood.  I am not afraid to dress strange or to wear two different shoes, it reminds me not to take life too seriously. You’d probably be surprised at how little people notice/care about how crazy someone looks if you do it confidently.  It’s when you feel uncomfortable or out-of-place that people can sense it, then they insult you.”

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Much of our local history is dark and reflective of the oppression of the human spirit, because for a long period of our recent history, the area was monopolized by an industry that told people daily that they did not matter.  In fact, the mules that worked in the anthracite coal mines were insured, while the humans laboring there were not!  Local workers had to resign themselves to the fact that they were being exploited, just for the opportunity to earn a paycheck.  “That coal miner mentality is still engrained in the people from this area. I think it plays an enormous role in the art I create, so I respect it very much and choose to embrace it”, Dennis said, “There is a dark cloud of oppression that just sits over this valley, although it’s not strong enough to keep me down in any sense.  I find it comforting– in a totally sick and twisted kinda way. Ha-ha”

One of the prominent remnants of the coal mining era, the Huber Breaker ruins, has a starring role in two of Astorian Stigmata’s videos. (For those of you outside of Northeastern Pennsylvania, a coal breaker is literally a place where the coal that was brought up from the mines was broken into smaller pieces using machinery.) This location is popular with urban explorers because they love to photograph the machinery and vanishing points that are contained within the decaying walls of this now obsolete industrial complex.  I asked Dennis to explain the inspiration behind using this location for these videos.  “It’s one of a kind”, he said, “And it’s in rather good shape for how old it is.  That place has a feeling and a beauty to it I’ve never felt anywhere else.  It’s special in that sense and it’s really inspiring in many ways. It’s hard to explain.”

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I asked Dennis if he thought that exposing non-history buffs or individuals unfamiliar with our local history, to our historic locations in a non-traditional artistic context is a good way to inspire an interest in the subject matter.  “Yes, I do”, he responded, “Our target audience has never been local.  We’ve always strived to appeal to a worldly audience.  Most local people think the Huber is played out, ‘cause they’ve seen it so many times, but there’s a person sitting in Norway right now watching that video thinking that’s the coolest place they’ve ever seen.”  

And believe me, he’s not kidding!  One of my personal, most interesting experiences with the Huber Breaker includes running into a group of students from Germany, taking pictures of the Breaker, as one of their stops on an “Urban Exploration” tour of the industrial ruins along the east coast of the United States!

I asked Condusta, a descendent of coal miners himself–both of his great grandfathers were employed by this industry–if he had any thoughts about using a place where men, and even little boys, were oppressed and exploited to express himself artistically.  He said, “Yes, I always think of that.  And sadly the world still works that way.  I always kinda wished people knew the background on the industry and of that place ‘cause it would add a whole new dimension to the message I’m trying to send.”  Although Dennis maintains that the videos and pictures are primarily for aesthetic purposes, and produced for a world-wide audience who does not see such places as they go about their daily lives.     “While I understand and respect the history personally”, Dennis explains, “I don’t expect someone in Spain to think of that.”

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Of the two Astorian Stigmata videos filmed at the Huber Breaker, “The Beginning Of An End” is the most artistic in nature, and therefore open to individual interpretation.  I thought it would be interesting to analyze the video/lyrics within the context of the historical setting with Condusta. 

The start of this video features a guy in a camouflage suit collecting water samples from this industrial site in a post apocalyptic world.   I found it somewhat poetic that in the beginning of the video you hear “stay safe”, because the irony is that for the men who worked at that dangerous site, in such a high-risk industry, that’s what they, and their loved ones, were thinking every day.  Dennis found that interpretation interesting, but said that it wasn’t quite what he was thinking while creating that scene for the video.   The video also features a vampire, which I interpreted as a representation of the coal company literally feeding off of the coal miners to turn a profit for themselves, while their employees often lived in impoverished conditions.

The song lyrics contain the phrase “where beauty meets decay”.  I asked Condusta if he thought there was something tragically beautiful about this specific abandoned industrial site.  “Yes, most certainly”, he said, “It’s symbolic of what was once flourishing, busy and a source of life and jobs for an entire city. And now it’s pushed aside and forgotten. That’s the central theme of my artistic being.”

I asked Dennis why he chose to end the video with the sound of a laughing child.  “That was just to provide and exaggerate the feeling of unease that I was attempting to convey”, he explained.

The video “Strange Nights (Live From The End Of The World), was also filmed on location at the Huber Breaker.  I asked Condusta if there was something about the location that promoted an “end of the world” feeling.  “Yes”, he responded, “It reminds me of what the world would look, and feel like if it were to suddenly end. I found a worker’s time card in the breaker dated from 1962.  It’s just interesting to think about how so much of that place seems like the workers just walked out at the end of the shift, and didn’t come back. It doesn’t feel like it ever planned to close–it has a feeling of unrest.”

In conclusion, I asked Dennis if there was anything that he wanted people to know about himself or Astorian Stigmata.  “Myself personally?  I’m not a terribly interesting person”, was his response, “I put my life into art and I ask for nothing in return. I don’t do this for money/fame or reputation. I was just born with a soul that needs to express itself, and I hope somewhere along the way someone else gets some enjoyment from the work I do.”

You can find more information about Astorian Stigmata by visiting their official website  and  Facebook page .   

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Maximilian Aladar was born on May 28th 2005.  He is the creation of Dennis Condusta who was in need of someone to play the drums for his band, because at that time, he was playing all of the instruments himself on the recordings.  Dennis made Max that very night, never finishing his legs or giving him a mouth.  This way, Max could not talk back (using words) or run away.  Today, Max serves as the guide for Astorian Stigmata.  He is the puppet master who is a puppet…..

Max 1

   

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Into the Belly of the Beast: Exploring The Mines That Fed The Industrial Revolution

Disclaimer:

I feel the need to have one of those “Beavis and Butt-head are not role models. They’re not even human, they’re cartoons.  Some of the things they do could cause a person to get hurt, expelled, arrested… possibly deported.  To put it another way, don’t try this at home” warnings at the beginning of this post.  

While Ed Mountjoy is NOT a cartoon character (although some may disagree), what he does is EXTREMELY DANGEROUS, and you should just resign yourself to enjoying his adventures from the safety of your computer/smartphone screen.  But since urban explorers tend to view “No Trespassing” signs as invitations to enter, I won’t bother coming up with a disclaimer of my own….I’ll just stand by what Mike Judge said, just insert Ed Mountjoy and abandoned anthracite mines for yourselves!  😉 

Ed First

Many Social Media users in Northeastern Pennsylvania (NEPA) recognize Ed Mountjoy as the face of The Forgotten Coal Industry of NEPA’S Facebook page.  But Ed’s following is quickly spreading beyond the “coal region” of Pennsylvania, and into the realm of the world-wide network of urban exploration.  And understandably so, since within the “explorer” hierarchy, those who explore the territory below the earth’s surface definitely carry more prestige than those of us who remain steadfastly with our feet planted above the ground. 

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While there are coal deposits scattered about the world, the coal from Northeastern Pennsylvania  is special  because it is anthracite coal, which is more pure, harder, and of higher carbon content than any  other type of coal on the entire planet.  In the Western Hemisphere, 95 percent of the anthracite coal supply is located within the 500 square mile region of Pennsylvania that is the topic of Ed’s “Forgotten Coal Industry” Facebook page. 

The story of anthracite coal mining in NEPA is complex.  It’s about pioneering industry and the entrepreneurial spirit, as well as the darker side of greed, suffering, and human exploitation. During the coal era in NEPA, the elite Coal Barons (coal company owners, a.k.a. The 1%) built magnificent Victorian mansions, as their immigrant workers often lived in overcrowded, company-owned “patch towns”, while actually having to pay their employer for the supplies necessary to do their high-risk  jobs that resulted in earning less than what we would call a “living wage” today.

 The coal mines of Luzerne County have been abandoned for decades now, but Ed Mountjoy is on a mission to document and share whatever remains he can find that relate to our local coal mining history before these remnants are gone forever—especially those places or structures that are hidden away from us as we go about our daily modern lives full of urban sprawl. 

While many urban explorers have documented popular local coal-related locations such as the Huber Breaker and Concrete City, Ed ventures into an area of local exploration that you never really hear about—the actual anthracite mines themselves.  Since exploration is ultimately about documenting the remains and ruins of the places that touched the lives of the people who once lived, worked, worshiped, or played at these locations, Ed is honoring the men who worked in these coal mines by reminding us all about the physical reality of their confined work-space. 

A Slope Leading To A Flooded Mine

A Slope Leading To A Flooded Mine

One truth remains the same today as it did for the men who toiled daily underground decades ago in NEPA–anyone entering a coal mine faces many dangers such as underground floods, roof falls, a mine collapse, fire, and countless other methods of serious injury or death.  A coal mine is not a glamorous place to be at all. The men working underground found themselves in an environment that was dirty, dangerous and most likely damp.  Standing up straight is almost impossible because mine tunnel ceilings are too low.  The air that you breathe in a coal mine is stale & dusty.  The miners actually had to use pieces of lumber to prop up the roof in the area that they were working in, as an attempt to avoid being trapped or crushed by huge rocks.  This knowledge gives anthracite mine explorers an adrenaline rush when something seems out of the ordinary during a mission.

“During a recent exploration, we thought we were hearing part of the mine collapsing, but it turned out to be some rocks sliding down an incline we just went up. That scared us but we were relieved to know it wasn’t the mine collapsing”, explained Ed.

Ed began seriously exploring abandoned anthracite mines at the end of 2010.  He had explored the remains of two collieries (for those of you outside of the NEPA region, a colliery is a coal mine and the buildings associated with it) as well as other abandoned buildings as far back as 2006, so he was already interested in abandonments.   “ I was informed about two mines and originally was just going to find them and get exterior photos of the openings into them”,  he explained, “ After several attempts looking for them, we, a friend and I, found them and saw they were low mine openings, meaning you have to crawl to get inside. We decided to enter them and the interest just sparked from there after seeing what we had inside of those two low mines.”

When asked how he finds mines to explore, Ed responded, “Well, I normally do research about what mines were in opperation around a particular area before exploring.  Sometimes, we’ll just run across a mine and, after exploring, will do research afterwards on what mines they may have been and what companies owned them during their years of operation. As for preparing to explore one of these mines, we’ll examine the conditions of the opening before entering; making sure the ceiling isn’t in horrible condition.”

Props Holding Up Mine Ceiling

Props Holding Up Mine Ceiling

As far as equipment goes, Ed approaches mine exploration on the lighter side by just carrying a flashlight, camera, tripod, and a drink.  He is also sure to take someone else with him. “I NEVER explore any place alone”, he stated, “I always have at least one other willing friend who comes with me. You never know what can happen when exploring any abandoned place, and mines are no exception.”

I wanted to know if he ever got lost while engaging in his underground exploration adventures.   Ed’s response was that he has never been lost, not even while exploring the largest mining system that he has been in, “I have a rather good sense of direction and can retrace my steps back, plus some of the mines still have arrows painted on the walls and ceilings pointing to the exit from back when they were mined”.  

I was curious to know what Ed considered to be the most difficult aspect of this type of exploration.  “Finding any mines that haven’t been sealed closed, and seeing if they are safe enough to enter, if they are still open.  Most of the mines that were in operation have been sealed off, whether they were blasted shut, filled or grated off.   Even many of the ones that were left open, either due to being forgotten about or just haven’t been attended to yet, have since collapsed on their own”, was his response.  He further added, “It’s more dangerous than an above ground structure. The deeper you go, there is more of a chance that something can happen and less of a chance you’ll be found, unlike a building where if you get hurt, chances are you can get a cell signal and call for help. Mines and other underground places tend to have no cell service, so it’s best to tell another the location of where you’re going, in case something does happen”.

A Steep Pitch Mine

A Steep Pitch Mine

While describing what it is like to spend time in these abandoned underground work spaces today, Ed thoughtfully explained that it’s quite peaceful, “Its dead quiet in the old mines. The most you may hear, besides yourself and whoever is with you, may be a few bats, which I have seen hanging from the ceilings, and water dripping from the cracks in the ceiling. The quietness adds to the thought of knowing that at one point, there were men down there digging those tunnels, setting up those props and loading coal into the mine carts to go to the surface to be processed at the breaker, which, during those times, the mines would have been anything but quiet.”

I asked Ed what he was hoping to accomplish by exploring these abandoned anthracite mines.  “To show others an aspect of our history that is overlooked today. Most know about the coal mining history, and others may have explored some of the places that are still standing, such as the Huber Colliery, but not many get to see the very mines where the coal was brought out of to be processed at these breakers.  My photos are a way to document and preserve the history of a once prosperous industry”, was his response.

What really leaves an impression on Ed about these underground spaces where men had to work every day is “how low some of these mines were, and knowing that there were men who actually dug those low mine tunnels out to get to that coal. Just try to imagine crawling around in a tunnel no more than four feet tall trying to dig further into it, trying to reach as much of the coal as you can without the solid rock above you crashing down on top of you. That’s what it must have been like for those miners.  What would probably surprise most people is how low some of these mines are and the fact that men were actually down there, crawling around, grabbing the coal from those low mines to earn a paycheck.”

A Prop Holding Up A Low Mine

A Prop Holding Up A Low Mine

You can follow Ed Mountjoy and all of his coal mining exploration endeavors on Facebook at The Forgotten Coal Industry of NEPA

Ed 11 

 “Because it’s their time. Their time!  Up there!

Down here, it’s our time. It’s our time down here!”

–The Goonies

I encourage anyone interested in learning more about

abandoned mine underground research to visit :

The Official Website of Abandoned Mine Research, Inc.

and please note this warning about abandoned mine exploration:

Stay Out….Stay Alive!

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Cheri Sundra © 2012
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(Video) Ghost Town: Post-Apocalyptic Chic “Concrete City”–another Unemployed Zombie Building Infiltration Specialist Production

To see my video featuring a fun romp thru a ghost town in Pennsylvania visit: (Video) Ghost Town: Post-Apocalyptic Chic “Concrete City”–another Unemployed Zombie Building Infiltration Specialist Production Abandoned in 1924, Concrete City is said to be the first example of modern-day cookie-cutter or tract housing.  This residential development, built in 1911, consisted of 20 buildings, each one housing two families.  Both halves of every structure contained a living room, kitchen and dining room downstairs, with four bedrooms on the second floor.  Outhouses were constructed behind the dwellings.  The homes were arranged around a central plaza that contained a pavilion, baseball field, tennis court and wading pool.  Concrete sidewalks illuminated by electric lights and landscaped yards completed this cutting-edge community, which was abandoned in 1924 because the owners did not want to install an expensive sewer system as required by the township.

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Spontaneous Acts of Art: Concrete City Ruins

*(All photos are my own unless another photographer is credited.  If the photo is from another person, you can click on the photo itself to see more of their work.  All photos were shot at Concrete City) 

Old Skool: All Great Truths Begin as Great Blasphemies

 

Photographer: Dawn Robinson–Baltimore, Maryland

I love to explore the ruins of Concrete City, an honest to goodness ghost town  in Northeastern Pennsylvania that has morphed from a long forgotten hopeless abandonment,   into a frequently changing urban art gallery.   There is something amazing about a place that is left to disappear into history that creates a second life for itself.  At Concrete City you can feel a faint heartbeat and bear witness to the stirring of a soul thru the expression of the street art that people feel compelled to create on its decaying & crumbling walls. 

All We Know is Falling </3 Caution Cliff Ahead

By “street art”  I don’t mean misspelled racial slurs, poorly drawn genitalia, or swastikas (although you will run into plenty of that), I mean art that was clearly done by someone with talent or at least a statement with a deep thought behind it.  The purpose of this kind of art is to question the existing environment with its own language.  It is art that is unsanctioned and not sponsored by community or government initiatives.  “Street art” is art in its truest form—art for art’s sake brought to life in a public space.   

Concrete City is also a location popular with Paint Ball enthusiasts which helps to add a certain photographic ambiance to an otherwise dreary location. Photographer Katherine Rogers—Tattoo Artist, Reading Pennsylvania

Photographer Katherine Rogers—Tattoo Artist, Reading Pennsylvania

Old Skool: Imperfections Create Character

 I don’t just mean old skool graffiti in which traditional artists have primarily used free-hand aerosol paints to produce their work.  Today’s resurgence in street art encompasses many other techniques such as stencil art, sticker art, and installations.   And in a phenomenon that I find most interesting, this art renaissance that is spontaneously occurring at Concrete City has attracted the attention of photographers who are actually bringing models there to shoot on location!  At Concrete City!  😉 

Photographer: LUIGI ROMANO (aka Egoista_73)  from Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania

“I like to do photo shoots in this area because it’s the right amount of strange. It’s colorful, creepy and crazy, and there’s nothing better than having that combination with a mix of modern people.” —Corrine Klug

Photographer: Corrine Klug—Dallas, Pennsylvania

“I like doing out of the box fashion shoots, Concrete City is an amazing place, and pretty PRIVATE for the most part, it’s a place where you can clear your mind and just enjoy the art of it all.”– Sande Kaczkurkin

Photographer: Sande Kaczkurkin  “Pennsylvania Sande”—Springville, Pennsylvania with model Sarah Cugini of Model Mayhem–MM Number 2100887

With a little luck, maybe this creative energy can find a way to infuse itself into some other areas of Luzerne County if community leaders would allow it.  These are artists who clearly want to share their talents, why not give them some space somewhere to create community generated art?  Wilkes-Barre is a small community without a lot of money; it needs all of the free inspiration that it can get! 

Is it vandalism or Van-Dali’-ism?!

The history of graffiti/street art includes Ancient Greece and the Roman Empire.  Graffiti was found in the ruins of Pompeii, on the walls of ancient Jerusalem, and in ancient Egypt.   It has always been used by mankind to express underlying social and political messages. One of the most famous and inspiring graffiti campaigns predating the modern street art movement began during World War II with the tag “Kilroy was here”.   Kilroy was a little long-nosed character with a bald head that began popping up in unexpected places across the theaters of war visited by American troops.  American soldiers engaged in competitions to inscribe the tag in obscure locations to help keep the battle-weary soldiers inspired.  Soldiers became so engaged by the graffiti art competition, that the mysterious Kilroy character had Japanese Intelligence Officers and Hitler himself worried about the “message” being propagated by the little ubiquitous guy. 

 

Photographer: Stacy Shannon—Alexandria, Virginia

Today, graffiti has become a rapidly developing art form that is gaining legitimacy.  The art world of curators, dealers and collectors are helping graffiti artists expand their audience on a worldwide scale, just as Luzerne County is gearing up to start its own War on Graffiti in the name of keeping our streets free from gang influence.  Our community leaders and law enforcement officers are telling residents to protect our children and our streets from gangs by reporting all graffiti to the police departmentIncidentally, there also happens to be a stream of funding available at this time for communities who can prove that they are plagued by the infiltration of gang-related activity. 

Sadly art is historically a casualty in any community where leaders try to create solutions to avoid an impending economic apocalypse.  I’d hate to see local Banksy wannabes get silenced during a campaign against little local gangsta wannabes just as graffiti art is sweeping the nation as a means to revitalize declining and blighted communities.  Cities like Los Angeles and Chicago are publically recognizing the talent of their graffiti artists by providing the means for them to do legal graffiti, which helps to foster developing street artists while lessoning the amount of graffiti that appears in their cities as vandalism.  One criticism often heard in Luzerne County is that we knock down our historic structures and do nothing with the newly created space, or worse yet, put up a parking lot— UNUSED parking lots

Our leaders need to foster more progressive thinking in terms of turning our dying community around and breathing new life into our often empty streets.  With price tags for the historic preservation and the economic development of our blighted structures reaching into the millions, as our community sits and waits for something to happen to reinvigorate the center city area of Wilkes-Barre, local graffiti artists have been creating a message (for free!) that is calling out to other creative individuals.   Local street artists are drawing visitors and compelling them to document a broken and deserted town sitting in the middle of nowhere in Luzerne County.  What can we do to get these people to travel less than ten miles down the road to breathe a little life and tourism into Wilkes-Barre using the same inexpensive method? Can the same medium be used to draw local residents in neighboring communities into the center of Wilkes-Barre again?  Maybe, if given the opportunity, at least temporarily until the millions needed for community redevelopment and historical preservation can magically arrive……Just as the Kilroy Graffiti Campaign gave hope to American soldiers fighting a war, perhaps a Community Graffiti Campaign is what the city of Wilkes-Barre needs to give citizens a renewed sense of optimism as they prepare to fight their own war–a war against economic blight.

Giraffiti in The Concrete City Jungle Room

 

Beyond Concrete City, people in the area are currently talking about the red cat stencil tag artist.  Who is this mysterious street artist and what is their message?  Can anyone out there offer any insight?

 

Gruesome Intermodal Kitty

Frank Clark Jeweler Cat

   

South Street Bridge Stencil Art Cats

Another South Street Bridge Playful Kitty

And this keeps showing up in the most unusual places also….who is he?

Graffiti IS happening in Luzerne County and very little of it appears to be gang related…..

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Visit Vimeo to watch my Concrete City mini-movie!

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Cheri Sundra © 2012
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Post-Apocalyptic Chic Ghost Town: Concrete City, Nanticoke PA

 

By Cheri Sundra

 

Abandoned: 1924

Pictures from June 1 and June 7, 2010

Nanticoke has its own post-apocalyptic-esque ghost town—the only thing missing is the roving band of marauders.  Referred to by some as one of the failed technological experiments in Pennsylvania railroad and coal mining history,  and by others as the first example of modern-day cookie-cutter or tract housing, the Concrete City ruins still stand as a monument to the “company housing” living arrangements experienced by some area workers during the late 1800’s and the early 1900’s.  Described as “virtual villas” by the upper class of coal mining families, these houses were regarded as a futuristic marvel when first constructed.

“Company Housing” in Pennsylvania usually referred to villages comprised of frame-built wooden houses, commonly called “shanties” by county assessors, that were hastily built by industrialist owners for their low-paid employees.  By controlling their housing arrangements, employers maintained more control over the lives of their employees and had more opportunity to exploit workers and their families.  A great example of this “traditional” company town can be seen at Eckley Miner’s Village, located just 9 miles east of Hazleton, Pennsylvania.

Concrete City is “company housing” with an architectural twist.  The “city” is a very early example of International Style Architecture which is characterized by buildings with rectilinear forms, unadorned of ornamentation or decoration and constructed with steel, glass and reinforced concrete.  This architecture style is a minimalist concept that stresses functionalism.

Pennsylvania railroads were using concrete, a novel building material at the start of the 20th Century, on a wide variety of projects.  Concrete City was built by the Coal Division of D L and W Railroad for employees of the Truesdale Colliery. The homes, which were built in 1911 and opened in 1913, were rented out to a hand-full of their current employees for $8.00 per month. Called the “Garden City of the Anthracite Region” by its designers, the requirements to be met by employees for residency consideration in this cutting-edge, model worker housing community included English as a first language and employment with the company in a position of “high value” such as mine supervisor, foreman or technician.

Concrete City consists of 20 buildings.  Each one was a duplex that housed two families.  Each half of every single standing structure contained a kitchen, living room and dining room downstairs and four bedrooms on the second floor.  Concrete outhouses were constructed behind each house.

All of the houses were arranged around a central plaza that was about the size of a football field which contained a pavilion, baseball field and a tennis court.

There was a wading pool for children and a waist deep, circular swimming pool with constantly flowing water for adults which are said to be the first in-ground pools built in the Wyoming Valley.  The pool was emptied in 1914 after a boy drowned.  Concrete sidewalks illuminated by electric lights and landscaped yards completed the futuristic community.  Concrete City residents were said to be plagued by dampness because moisture constantly seeped thru the porous concrete which led to condensation on the walls.

This is a picture of an item from the archives of the Luzerne County Historical Society.

Eleven years after it’s construction, Concrete City was abandoned because the owners did not want to install an expensive sewer system as required by

Concret City Now

the township in 1924. Ironically, demolition of the modern “Garden City of the Anthracite Region” was halted when it was discovered that the implosion of 100 sticks of dynamite in one of the houses had very little impact.  The concept of demolishing the city made of concrete was deemed too expensive, despite the fact that coal was discovered under the site after it was abandoned.

Currently, many of the structures exhibit fire damage because the Luzerne County Volunteer Fireman’s Association has used Concrete City as a training center.

Despite the fact that it has been designated as an historical site in 1998 by the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission, locals frequently use Concrete City for paint ball games or parties as evidenced by the numerous paint balls and beer cans scattered about the grounds. Graffiti covers all of the buildings throughout the entire abandoned community.

Concrete City ruins photographed on June 1 & June7, 2010

NEED MORE CONCRETE CITY IN YOUR LIFE?

***To see how Concrete City seems to be experiencing new life as a frequently changing urban art gallery, go to Spontaneous Acts of Art–Concrete City Ruins

***Want more in-depth history of Concrete City, with a twist?  Check out   Of Concrete City, Mermaids and the Ghost Town Stairs to Nowhere (Part 1) and  Of Concrete City, Mermaids and Ghosts (both Past & Present) Part 2

***And visit Vimeo to watch my Concrete City mini-Movie!

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Cheri Sundra © 2010              
All Rights Reserved

 

 

 

 

 

Ghost Town Graffiti

 

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