Posts Tagged ‘ Huber Breaker ’

The Huber Breaker: Machines of Corruption

     Like a glimpse into the future, I can remember when Beyond Fallen front man, Joe Karavis, performed an Iron Maiden song during a talent show at Hanover Area High School.  So it’s not surprising that he and his band, currently celebrating a decade together, have performed in venues like the Headbangers Open Air Festival in Germany.   Beyond Fallen is currently preparing to release a new CD on September 7th.

Beyond Fallen

     Looking to use imagery that was specific to Northeastern Pennsylvania, vocalist and cover designer, Joe Karavis, chose The Huber Breaker as the backdrop for the cover art for their fourth CD, “Machines of Corruption”.

     “It fits very well with the theme of the title track. The Breaker is kind of scary to me, and I thought it would make a great cover”, explained Karavis.  Like just about everyone else in Luzerne County, Joe has family ties to the coal industry, “Yeah,  I had some family members that worked in the mines… it made them pretty miserable I guess.”

     The Huber Breaker, which has been abandoned since the late 1970s, has been a popular Urban Exploration site for decades, and is often described by explorers as “ a death trap” and  “twisted metal” because of the condition of the structure.   “I went there to take the photos and I wanted to get done and out of there as fast as I could”, said Karavis about his experience photographing The Breaker. “It’s very quiet, and you feel like something or someone is about to jump out at you”, he explained.

     I asked Karavis why he’s remained true to his heavy metal musical roots.  “It was the type of music that best suited my voice. One thing led to another and I just went with it”, he replied.  I wondered if the genre has changed since his high school talent show days.   “It’s evolved”, Joe explained, “but not to the point that it’s gone too far away from the things that make the genre what it is. Many newer bands are doing some interesting things. It’s a style if you take it from the basics, that can branch out into many directions.”

     Beyond Fallen, which has quite an international following, is often described in articles as a “US Power Metal” band.  I asked Karavis if that means that it has a different sound than Metal from bands in other countries.  “I don’t think the labels on styles always interpret into what the music sounds like. Some people have called us that style. It could be that it’s faster and more energetic than traditional heavy metal, with a more riff-driven approach, but that’s not always the case”, Joe explained.

     In discussing NEPA’s influence on his artistic vision, why there is an interest in NEPA grown music abroad, and how music transcends geography, Joe said, “We tapped into a niche. We just found that we had more interest from the European metal community in what we were doing, so we focused more on that. I think we have some similarities with the Midlands Birmingham region of Great Britain, where legendary bands like Black Sabbath, Judas Priest came from. A blue collar industrial region. It’s also not exactly a cultural Mecca here like New York, London, Paris etc. so you try to find inspiration in other ways.”

      While Beyond Fallen enjoys an international fan base, they do all of their recording locally at SI Studios in Old Forge.  “It’s always been great working at SI”, said Karavis, “This is the fourth time this band has recorded there. We are lucky to have a studio like that in our area. The guys there are professionals, and we feel comfortable.”

     Joe Karavis writes all of the band’s lyrics himself, which have been described as politically and socially charged.  I asked Joe what fans can expect to find on their new CD.  “We have different topics for each song. One is about the Roman Emperor Caligula, corrupted by his own ego and hunger for power. The title track is about how humans are used and abused. The CD has all the lyrics included so I’ll leave the rest up to the listener”, he explained.

Beyond Fallen

Beyond Fallen

Photo Credit:  Keith A Barbuti

     I asked Karavis when he started writing his own music.  “I think when I was in grade school me and some other boys used to make up our own words to popular songs, like dirty limericks etc. The first couple recordings I did were horrible, but you have to start somewhere”, he said.

     When asked what he wanted people to know about the new CD, Karavis responded, “We are proud of it. Hopefully everyone will like it. It’s not for everyone, but it’s very creative and the songs have a lot of energy. We had more time to write these songs than the ones on the previous album. Every time we record there’s a sense that this could be the last thing we ever do, so we try our best to make it great.”

 @@@@@@@

Return To

GUERRILLA HISTORY Table of Contents

Cheri Sundra © 2013
All Rights Reserved

Advertisements

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!  

As5

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. 

AS2

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.”

AS1

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.”

As6

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.”

AS4

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.”

AS3

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 .   

Max 3

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

   

Back To

GUERRILLA HISTORY

Table of Contents

Cheri Sundra © 2012
All Rights Reserved

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. 

Ed 2

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!

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*

Return To

GUERRILLA HISTORY Table of Contents

Cheri Sundra © 2012
All Rights Reserved

DEATH AND TAXES: Even the Dead Can’t Avoid Taxes and Abandonments

It’s been said that Urban Exploration Photography is ultimately about photographing failure.  Specifically, what we are capturing when we point our lens at a building in a state of abandonment and ruin is the inability of both individual owners and whole communities to maintain enough prosperity to support business, industry or redevelopment.  So what can be said when engaging in urban exploration exposes that you can’t even escape potential abandonment (and taxes) in death?

Because of that question, I consider this to be the strangest and most disturbing place that I’ve photographed to date.

This dilapidated mausoleum/chapel has notices taped to the front window that contain words such as “Tax Claim Bureau” and “Judicial Sale”, plus a figure in excess of $4,000.  The papers were all signed and dated during the summer of 2005, when they were evidentialy placed where they have remained since that date.   There are people interred on both sides of this deteriorating building as well as inside.  The roof obviously is in need of repair.  Two portions of the rear stained glass windows appear to be missing.  All of the flowers placed with the memorials are artificial, indicating that people are not allowed inside the structure on a regular basis, AND they were made aware of the fact that they would be denied access at some point.   There is also an obviously abandoned and overgrown cemetery office building located on the opposite side of the property.

Someone does periodically maintain the grounds by cutting the grass where people are buried.  Other than that fact, there is no indication whatsoever that any activity takes place on the property.  It seems dead as the proverbial door-nail.  It’s hard to even try to guess what, if anything, is in the works for the “residents” of “Questionable Fate” Memorial Park.  I find that idea haunting and I have more to say about this location at the end of the post.

Memorial Park Office

Looking for some input from the outside world while I was editing these pictures and thinking about what to write, I posted an image from this series on Facebook.  Almost immediately, the picture generated the expected “Where’s this at?” from someone unaware that urban explorers just don’t ask that particular question, at least not in a public forum!

In my response, I explained that I was not going to disclose the location.  Which is a first for me; much to the annoyance of some other photographers of the same subject matter, I usually post my pictures on social media sites like Flickr with all of the pertinent tags and background information included.  I just learned early on that people were more likely to take the time to look at, and comment on, my pictures when they know what they are looking at and have some background information to add context and depth to their interpretation of the image.  If those components are missing, I usually question the effectiveness and purpose of this genre of photography.  But this Memorial Park mystery has me even questioning that point of view, at least in some cases.

I still believe that each of us engaged in this activity is really bound by ethics to disclose location information to other legitimate photographers/historians/documentarians.   At its core, urban exploration photography serves to visually challenge America’s current state of amnesia about its past economic failure. Ruins don’t happen overnight—they require DECADES of neglect!

Hotel Sterling: The UnDead Days--Part 1 An Introduction
Hotel Sterling, Luzerne County, Pennsylvania

I am aware that full disclosure is considered controversial by some people who explore on a regular basis, since many believe that all locations should remain top secret information.

After a few years of doing this, I definitely reject that point of view. There seems to be a growing consensus, at least among mature, professional explorers, that we are acting as the archivists of America’s age of post-war industrial decline.

The Loom Room, Scranton Lace {EXPLORED}:  UE Magazine
Abandoned Scranton Lace Factory

America is  a nation in transition.  For generations we have been running away from a much required correction to our economy, way of life and expectations.  Our cities and small towns are struggling to provide basic services to residents.  We are living in dire economic times befitting the fall of an empire.  Almost every community across the county is littered with more long-term abandonments than they can even begin to hope to restore and that is serving as our wake up call, reminding us that we can no longer pretend that we are able to continue to grow our economy exponentially.

While people like to believe that our current economic state is a recent and unexpected occurrence caused by one president or another, the truth is that America’s decline actually began decades ago. Some economists believe that it really started with the end of World War II.

Fast forward to today, after the big “preservation” push during the 90s, and the start of the new millennium, following the time when communities looked to “Savior Building” redevelopment/preservation projects to jump-start their struggling economy.  Those projects, more often than not, resulted in unmet goals and half completed endeavors. Now, those same proponents of preservation are singing a vastly different tune.  Quotes from a Preservation Pennsylvania representative in 2011, paint a grim picture for abandonments of historical significance in my state, when asked about the finding help to save the long-abandoned Hotel Sterling:

It's a Zombie Ballroom now at the Hotel Sterling

 Zombie Ballroom at the Hotel Sterling

The state is filled with historic structures facing demolition. These are difficult times economically. Private funders don’t have money. The government doesn’t have any money, and typically that’s where money comes for historic preservation,” – “Preservation Pennsylvania is monitoring Hotel Sterling”, Times Leader, April 3, 2011

 I know many explorers operate under the assumption that if they keep these locations a secret, they can remain our personal playgrounds forever.  As a collective group, we may give lip service to preservation, but that is not the case, as observed in an interview by journalist Len Albright:

 “I’ve interviewed people who have been to the same building 20 or 30 times, they just love it so much,” he says. “But when I asked them if they’d like to organize a cleanup or a preservation effort, they’d be indifferent. They might think that’s fine for someone else to do … after awhile, though, they’d be off to hunt for the next abandoned building.”

That pretty much sums it up, for the most part, we are “ruin porn whores” first and foremost, myself included.  But thinking that an abandonment can remain abandoned indefinitely is unrealistic.  The only reason an abandonment would exist in the first place would be as a direct result of a failed economy.  In order for these communities to move forward, they are going to have to eradicate these structures from their landscape.  To leave them sit there, just signals the slow death of their entire social structure.

Huber Breaker Ruins:  The Art of Industrial DecayLong Abandoned Huber Breaker, Ashley Pennsylvania

It’s obvious that in order for economic recovery to start, these buildings are going to have to come down, especially if they have reached that tipping point where just building a new structure is far more economical than restoring what is there now.  And that’s why I share location information, I recognized that the structures have historical value, and they are doomed (which is why they are beautiful), and I want as many photographers to photograph them as possible before they are gone.  It is part of the history of the building, and the community, and deserves to be documented as much as any other event that occurred on the site.

Which brings me back to the questions raised by my haunting discovery of this memorial park, “why not share the location”?  It just doesn’t fall into the same category, and because I’m sure that people with loved ones buried there would not appreciate droves of urban explorers flocking there to gawk.  Plus there are weirdos out there who vandalize both crypts and corpses, so we certainly don’t want to tell them where a mausoleum of questionable status is located!

I was also asked, more than once,  via private message, “if the location isn’t worthy of sharing, why even bother posting the picture in the first place?”

I posted the picture because it touched me at a core level, as it obviously did for the other people who took the time to “like” my Facebook post, to comment, or to contact me privately.  Many people were wondering about who is maintaining the property and why. My best guess would be that people with loved ones buried at the location may be going there to cut grass, or the county where it is located has taken on the responsibility.

The tax notices are from 2005.  That was seven years ago.  Maybe someone has taken it over since then & just lacks the funds to do any repairs yet (although I would think they would at least remove the notices from the windows!)  I kind of hope that the families of the people buried there would pull their resources to take over the park for themselves, which would seem to be the least upsetting option.

 The funniest message was from the wife a man, well versed in history, who was puzzled as to WHY a cemetery would owe back taxes. I shared a copy of the notice posted on the door with them, because I believe it contains a clue.  The Tax Claim Notice lists the former owner as “Blank” Memorial Garden INC, and I’m thinking that the fact that it belonged to a corporation and not a religious institution may play a role in the present circumstances of the location! It may now be incorporated, but I guess there is no money to be made in death unless it’s tax free!  😉

This is why I believe that posting these images is important; it adds another layer to our national discussion about the fall of our empire, even without disclosing the location.  What does it really say about society when corporations and taxation interfere with the ability to maintain the final resting place of our dead?

@@@@@@

Return To

GUERRILLA HISTORY

Table of Contents

Cheri Sundra © 2012
All Rights Reserved

Huber Breaker Ruins: The Art of Industrial Decay

***Every photo also serves as a link to more of each photographer’s work

Photographer Scott Frederick, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Existing in a state of ruin and completely stripped of all functionality, the Huber Breaker looms over the bleak landscape of Ashley, Pennsylvania, a monument of the industrial revolution reduced to a useless scar, blighting the landscape.  A detritus of a bygone way of life, it has the power to tell us things about the past, while existing very much in the present.   

Photographer Jamie Clarke (aka RiddimRyder), Ontario, Canada

The Huber Breaker, a facility created for literally breaking chunks of coal into smaller bits, is a decaying piece of infrastructure from an industry that built an entire region.  Today the deafening noises and the human element of its function have been replaced by silence and total desolation as the abandoned breaker sits brooding on the landscape, now a decaying tomb in the post-industrial world.  Amazingly, it almost resembles something from a sci-fi movie set, in defiance of the fact that the machinery became outdated decades ago.

Photographer Dawn Robinson—Baltimore, Maryland

Photographer Stacy Shannon—Alexandria, Virginia

Photographer Enrico Fiore

History tells us that the breaker’s windows were designed for maximum use of sunlight, yet today the structure remains characteristically dark and somber, creating a compelling atmosphere for the photographers stopping by to ponder the passage of time and to bear witness to the slow destruction of this forsaken structure left behind by a long defunct enterprise.   

Photographer Enrico Fiore

Photographer Stacy Shannon—Alexandria, Virginia

Photographer LUIGI ROMANO (aka Egoista_73) with model Nicholas Bishop Michael of Model Mayhem #1634905

Machines often have a steampunk quality that can fuel the artistic imagination while the setting is comprised of titanic spaces that lend themselves to appearing like majestic ruins full of twisted metal and distant vanishing points. 

Photographer Jenn O’Malia—Groton, Connecticut

Photographer Dawn Robinson—Baltimore, Maryland

Blight itself can inspire all kinds of emotions in people because it is a display of failure that gives voice to the darker aspects of our communities. It can be shocking to directly confront the kind of neglect that sets in when the bottom falls out of a region’s economy. You are forced to realize that an industry once thrived at that location, generating wealth and opportunity for a privileged few, and all that remains for the community today is a massive hulk of neglect and decay, asking why the real estate that it stands on isn’t even valuable enough to warrant redevelopment.

Photographer LUIGI ROMANO (aka Egoista_73) with model Nicholas Bishop Michael of Model Mayhem #1634905

Photographer Cheri Sundra

 The obligatory history:

The Huber Breaker opened in 1939 to meet the bustling needs of the Anthracite coal industry and was able to process 7,000 tons of coal daily.  The company dyed the coal a blue color as a branding gimmick and it was advertised as “Blue Coal”. When demand for the mining industry declined, the facility closed in 1976.   Since that time, it has been left abandoned and open to vandals and scrappers. 

Photographer Geo Romolo, Toronto, Ontario

“This coal breaker, along with many others, is very special to me. They capture “Americana” at its best. The American Heartland could not be represented without these industrial backbones of our past. They represent to me the men and women that labored here. Our cities were and still are built on coal and steel. One image cannot even begin to capture the hard labor our forefathers put into pioneering the industrialization of America as we know it.”~~ Geo Romolo  

Photographer Jim Cook, Tunkhannock, Pennsylvania

“As a child growing up in the Wyoming Valley, the heart of the northeastern coal region,  I always wondered while passing by  that gargantuan structure on the highway what it would have been like to work there, or even be inside such a massive place. It wasn’t until I was older that I had an opportunity to step inside and take a look for myself. At that point in time the breaker had seen better days; the floors were starting to cave and the windows were mostly broken. However,  I really enjoyed exploring the breaker for various reasons, the most significant being the fact that it was such an integral part of the community where I grew up and its demise left the area and its occupants depressed. It is rich in history and that is why I enjoy photographing and documenting these forgotten places.”~~Jenn O’Malia

Photographer Jenn O’Malia—Groton, Connecticut

Photographer Stacy Shannon—Alexandria, Virginia

Photographer Dawn Robinson—Baltimore, Maryland

Photographer Cheri Sundra

Photographer Katherine Rogers (aka Dilated Pupil) , Tattoo Artist, Reading, Pennsylvania

“The Huber Coal Breaker was the first stop on our adventure this week and what a beauty it was!  ….This location is a bit unsafe because of the broken stairs and hanging debris, but we made our way up through the maze of death as I like to call it! The more time we spent in the Huber the more there was to shoot.”  ~~Scott Frederick Photography Blog

A Christo-esque Breaker Moment: I can’t help but wonder if this was a leftover background embellishment from a photo shoot, just a prank or was someone trying to make an artistic statement?~~Cheri Sundra

@@@@@

I was recently interviewed for an article about the Kirby Park Zoo Ruins:

Times Leader

~*~*~*~*~*~

Return To

GUERRILLA HISTORY Table of Contents

 

Cheri Sundra © 2012
All Rights Reserved

Take a Peek Inside the Huber Breaker Ruins

All Photos by Cheri Sundra

Up the Coal Chute

Eleven stories of tar-coated steel, scads of partially dismantled machinery, hundreds of broken steel-reinforced windows and more insight into the ravages of time than you can hope to absorb in one visit make the Ashley/Huber Breaker a popular site for urban explorers in Northeastern Pennsylvania. Since closing in 1976, this mammoth structure has had to survive salvage operations, vandalism and Mother Nature, in addition to fears about typical Luzerne County style politics.

When it was built in 1939 to replace an older and out-dated structure, the Huber Coal Breaker was considered a technological marvel. The facility was operated by the Glen Alden Coal Company to process coal from three nearby mines. Seven to ten thousand people have worked at the Huber Breaker sorting, washing and loading 7,000 tons of coal daily into train gondolas.

Long before companies like Nike and Ralph Lauren embraced the color “Pop” merchandising display technique to seduce consumers into buying their products, the Glen Alden Coal Company painted their coal blue as a marketing ploy that resulted in the moniker “Blue Coal Company”.

Because of the decline of the mining industry in the region, the facility was abandoned in 1976. The Huber Breaker Preservation Society was formed in 2001, hoping to turn the location into a local tourist attraction and historical sight. You can read about their current efforts at:
citizensvoice.com/news/huber-breaker-pre servation-society…

Unfortunately, local residents seem to have little confidence that this endeavor will achieve success because the restoration costs are so prohibitive and many doubt that this vision will actually draw additional tourism to the area.

Incidentally, I’ve had conversations with some urban explorers who would like to see the Huber Breaker Preservation Society adopt an Eastern State Penitentiary-esque approach to their efforts to save the Huber Breaker before this structure is forever lost to history.

 

Back To

GUERRILLA HISTORY Table of Contents

Cheri Sundra © 2010
All Rights Reserved

 

Advertisements