Posts Tagged ‘ Urban Exploration ’

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.”

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

   

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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. 

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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

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 “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
All Rights Reserved

I’ve Got The Power…..

Power D

Generations of families living near the Susquehanna River in Plymouth, or passing over the Carey Avenue Bridge, have grown accustom to seeing the huge smokestacks looming in the background. 

Power in the 50s

1950s (?) era picture with smokestacks in background

While the smokestacks have been dormant for many decades, and in some ways, have even changed with the times because, apparently, they now have something to do with providing cellular service, they still stand as a monument to a more powerful time—a time when humans first became God-like in their ability to provide artificial light, on a grand scale, during the darkest hours of the night.

"I've Got The Power......."
"I've Got The Power........"

In 1882, the first commercial power station opened in New York City.   Just two years later, The Wilkes-Barre Electric Company, along with Hildreth & Co. (Nanticoke), started offering service in some areas of Luzerne County.   

"I've Got The Power........”

Locally, it was primarily our West Side Communities that were the pioneers in electrical power and lighting for the area.  Nanticoke, Kingston, Wyoming, Forty Fort, Luzerne, Plymouth and Shickshinny all constructed power plants to meet the growing needs of this exciting, new industry. 

"I've Got The Power........It's gettin' it's gettin' it's gettin' kinda hectic”

“I’ve Got The Power……..It’s gettin’ it’s gettin’ it’s gettin’ kinda hectic……”

"I've Got The Power........It's gettin' it's gettin' it's gettin' kinda hectic”

Eventually, they all merged and consolidated into one big “light plant” that took over the responsibility for serving the entire area, which is what you still see standing today  at the river’s edge, on the corner of Bridge and Beade Streets.  Built in 1905, it was the fifth power plant erected in Plymouth.   

b Power

The very first power plant to operate in Plymouth opened in 1886 on Cherry Street.  During the early years of the lighting industry, commercial lighting was only furnished during “lighting hours” and only street lights were on the “moonlight”, or “all night”, schedule. I find it compelling to contemplate the notion that at one point humans had little control over darkness, and then we found a way to master the darkness by distributing artificial light. 

Abandoned Pennsylvania:  "I've Got The Power...."

"I've Got The Power........It's gettin' it's gettin' it's gettin' kinda hectic”  {EXPLORE}Can you spot the wire hanger still in place on the wall?

Today, the Plymouth Light Plant still stands, in a state of semi-abandonment.  The front portion of the building, bordering Bridge Street, is used as a rental storage facility, while the back portion of the structure remains unused.  The grounds around the back, with all of the “High Voltage” electrical service structures, make up the UGI Electrical Service Plymouth Substation. 

Power I
Power A

A big “thanks” to the Plymouth Historical Society for providing me with the information about the Plymouth Power Plant!  I was unable find anything on my own…..

Power Ghost Sign

Luzerne County Gas & Electric Corporation “ghost sign” overlooking the Susquehanna River

Power H
a Power

Power 9

Power 7

Power 6
Power 5

Power 4
Power 3
Power 2
Power J
Power F
Power B
Power C
Power E
I've Got The Power
Power G

Power 12

Smokestack as it looks from the front of the home

that belonged to my grandparents on Beade Street

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Cheri Sundra © 2012
All Rights Reserved

And They All Came Tumbling Down

The event that I am most often asked about is the collapse of a pavilion at the (now abandoned) Croop’s Glen Amusement Park —during a baby contest, of all things! 

In April of 1917, a newspaper blurb announced that “A new picnic ground with every known amusement device is being built at Hunlock’s Creek and will be open on May 28th as Croop’s Glen”.  By the 1930s, the park became a very popular venue for civic group outings which were often publicized in the local newspaper. 

Between 1926 and 1927, two wooden roller coasters were added.

There was a full size coaster named Twister, and one Kiddie Coaster.

Both pictures  of “Twister” courtesy of the Philadelphia Toboggan Company

Roller Coaster Entrance

Photo Courtesy of Ellen Geisel

During an outing planned by the Nanticoke Unemployed League in June of 1935, as mothers were assembling on the pavilion with their children for a baby show along with observers, the floor of the pavilion, which was situated between 20 & 30 feet above the bed of Hunlock’s Creek, parted in the middle and then dropped.  A witness account described a “roar of furniture, crockery, glass and human bodies falling into the creek”.   

Croop's BAbandoned Park Picnic Tables in 2010

According to the newspaper ““The floor of the Pavilion broke in two, creating a large funnel into which tumbled men, women and screaming children, together with benches, chairs and tables and the paraphernalia   usually taken along by picnickers”.   Witnesses estimated that between 250 and 300 people were standing on the pavilion at the time of the accident. 

Dance Pavilion?  Could be…..

Photo Courtesy of Ellen Geisel

Fortunately, the sides and roof of the structure stayed intact, contributing to the fact that no one died during or after the catastrophe.   As a result of the collapse, 145 people were admitted to the hospital.  A local newspaper reported that “after the rescue work, shoes, purses, hats and bits of clothing could be seen in the wreckage, mute testimony of the horror that overtook the hundreds who were on the pavilion.”

The park was owned by B.F. Croop and the land was leased to Charles Shelly who was the park manager.  According to the newspaper, officials of the Nanticoke Unemployed League Council initially expressed belief that over-crowding caused the accident.  Complete details about the accident are available thru the Luzerne County Library System’s Sunday Independent online archives at “200 Picnickers Injured Here As Dance Pavilion Collapses”.

On July 10th, 1938, the newspaper reported that the park was being sued by 12 people for injuries sustained during the pavilion accident.  The majority were seeking $5,000 in damages, a few asked for $10,000 and the highest amounted to $15,000.  Visit “$96,000 Damages Asked by 12 for Injuries In Pavilion Crash” to see a list of the plaintiffs. 

While many people speculate that the accident and subsequent lawsuit led to the closing and abandonment of Croop’s Glen Amusement Park that does not seem to be the case.  An article from August of 1943 states:

 “Noted for years as one of the regions natural parks, Croop’s Glen this year is a complete casualty of the war effort.”

Carousel – photo by Croop’s Glen Art Studio

Photo Courtesy of Ellen Geisel

”The park has been renovated substantially since the dance hall collapse ten years ago, but the rollercoaster, whip, dodgem, merry-go-round and kiddies train, to mention the leading amusements have not turned a wheel this summer.”

Carousel

Photo Courtesy of Ellen Geisel

“They, as well as the penny arcade, refreshment and prize stands, are covered as protection from the elements.  The swimming pool, which for many years was one of the best patronized in the region, because of its mountain-fresh, ever-flowing water, has also gone to pot.”

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Swimming Pool Remains in 2010

“It was a favorite place for basket outings and still has excellent facilities, including a large outdoor oven and scores of tables and benches if people were so inclined.”

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Concession Stand/Picnic Grove in 2010

The article also mentions that lack of public transportation was contributing to the decline of the park.  You can access the full text of the article at “Park At Croop’s Glen Complete War Casualty” 

I was unable to find anything stating when the park officially closed, by some accounts; it remained open as a picnic spot through the mid-50s, with the dance hall serving as a skating rink. 

Croop's AAbandoned Park Picnic Grove Structure in 2010

More Croop’s Glen Updates Here

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Abandoned Pennsylvania--Lost History Found:  Croop’s Glen Amusement Park, Hunlock Creek   Cheri Sundra © 2012 All Rights Reserved

 

 

The Ghost of Gangster’s Paradise

 

Al Capone’s cell at Eastern State Penitentiary, Philadelphia.

ESP:  Gangsta Paradise

Everyone knows that legendary gangster Al Capone’s reign ended when he was found guilty of tax evasion, but did you know that doing time for a minor charge helped the notorious prohibition-era crime boss lay low after he ordered the most spectacular gangland slaying in mob history?

In 1929, on February 14th, seven members of Chicago’s North Side Irish gang were lined up in a warehouse/garage by two men from Capone’s South Side Italian gang dressed as police officers.  Thinking that it was a routine police raid, everyone peacefully did as they were told as the rival gunmen removed their weapons and then proceeded to pump their bodies full of lead using two Tommy guns, a sawed-off shotgun, and a .45.  Each of the seven victims received at least 15 bullets, mostly in the head.  The event became known as The Saint Valentine’s Day Massacre.

Shortly after The Massacre, during what is said to be a planned arrest, Capone is picked up in Philadelphia for carrying a concealed weapon, and sentenced to a year in Eastern State Penitentiary (ESP) where he could reside in safety behind bars in the “Park Avenue Block” of the prison. The warden and guards at ESP gave special consideration to Mr. Capone during his stay.   He was permitted to hang artwork in his private cell, was allowed to have tables, lamps, a velvet duvet, comfortable chair and even an expensive radio so he could listen to waltzes after dinner.  Capone was allowed to continue to conduct business.  The organized crime boss was able to use the warden’s office to make long-distance phone calls and to meet with his lawyer.  Capone was released from ESP two months early for good behavior!

While Capone’s time at ESP many have been relatively pleasant, he may not have left unaffected by his stay.  During the early years of the Twentieth Century, rumors about ghosts began to circulate at the prison.  While he was incarcerated at ESP, Capone began to be “haunted” by the “ghost” of James Clark, one of the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre victims and the brother-in-law of his rival Bugs Moran.  Other inmates reported that they could hear Capone yelling in his cell begging “Jimmy” to leave him alone.  The crime boss even contacted a psychic to get rid of the angry specter.  Years later, Capone would say that Clark’s vengeful spirit followed him from Eastern State Penitentiary and would follow him to the grave.  Fact, fiction, imagination or was Capone starting to show signs of the full-blown psychosis that would eventually start to haunt him when he was later incarcerated in Alcatraz for tax evasion?

Can’t get enough ESP?

Don’t miss the rest of the ESP Halloween Tales:

1. Haunted ESP (ghost on film)

2. The Eye of God and The Mad Chair

And

3. The Ghost Cats

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Cheri Sundra © 2012
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Haunted ESP (ghost on film)

The Pen

Eastern State Penitentiary (ESP) was designed to be a scary place.  Located in Philadelphia, this abandoned prison turned uber-cool museum has been kept in a state of “preserved ruin”, meaning no significant attempts have been made at renovation or restoration. The empty and ever looming guard towers, rusting doors, crumbling cell blocks and vaulted, water-stained ceilings make this veritable fortress an intimidating place for visitors.  It would be easy to assume that the spooky atmosphere could easily be playing ghostly tricks on the imagination, but those who have experienced strange events at ESP say that it is one of the most haunted places on the planet.

ESP Death Row

Cellblock 15: Death Row

Rumors about ghosts started to echo through the prison long before the penitentiary was closed down.  Almost anyone who spent time at ESP was certain that something supernatural was occurring behind those foreboding walls.  Guards often spoke of the sounds of unexplained footsteps in the corridors, pacing feet in cells, eerie wails emanating from the dark corners of the complex and dark shadows that resembled people flitting past darkened doorways.

Because of its long history, gloomy atmosphere and ominous appearance, ESP has been often used as a location for TV shows and films about the paranormal. Paramount Pictures used parts of the old prison for the filming of TRANSFORMERS: REVENGE OF THE FALLEN.   In the Brad Pitt/ Bruce Willis film TWELVE MONKEYS, it was the setting for a mental hospital.  ESP is a favorite spot for photographers, music videos and has inspired several video games.

ESP1

GHOST HUNTER’S catch a “ghost” on film at Eastern State Penitentiary  on a walkway just like the one pictured above….WORTH WATCHNG!  Less than one minute long.

GHOST HUNTER’S “GHOST” VIDEO

Eastern State Penitentiary is located on Fairmount Avenue in Philadelphia, just a few blocks away from The Philadelphia Museum of Art and The Franklin Institute.

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The UE Magazine Interviews: SCRANTON LACE FACTORY

Scranton Lace Factory: The Loom Room is History Now  {EXPLORE}

Speaking as one myself, I can tell you that urban explorers are vastly misunderstood and our motives are grossly underestimated.  I began photographing ruins in my community about two years ago.  What compels me to do it is a mixture of curiosity and a drive to capture the sense of abandonment in these beloved places where people once lived or worked.

As America moves onward during this current age of our industrial decline, and communities find themselves littered with more abandoned structures than they can financially deal with, urban exploration is growing in popularity.  Explorers are assuming the very public role of modern-day archeologists as they set out to document our downfall, one image at a time.
Abandoned Scranton Lace Factory:  Mass Production Breeds Mindless Repetition

Yet, Urban Exploration is a lot like Fight Club.  It is its own subculture filled with intrigue and drama; it attracts thrill seekers who are bored with the banality of modern ”consumer culture”  life, and it’s a very secretive fraternity.  In fact just like Fight Club, the first rule of urban exploration is that you don’t talk about urban exploration.

Luckily, while we gathered to explore the Scranton Lace Factory, I was able to convince a few “professional” urban explorers—photographers Kevin Brett, Jennifer O’Malia, Katherine Rogers and documentarian Erik Hummel —to participate in a group interview as an attempt to understand the driving motivation behind their passion for this way of life.

The article, “As We Forgive Those Who Trespass Against Us”, is now available through UE Magazine  .

Grab your own copy today and enter the world of Urban Exploration!

Enjoy!

Cheri Sundra

~~ Taking one of NEPA’s most “Urban Exploration Worthy” sites to an international audience!

Extreme Bowling: Uncharted Frontier EZine

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The Ghost Cats

Eastern State Penitentiary2027 Fairmount Avenue, Philadelphia

Once the most famous and expensive prison in the world, Eastern State Penitentiary exists today in a conflicting condition known as  “preservation ruin”.  The result is a haunting world of empty guard towers and crumbling cell-blocks serving as a functional museum thanks to preservation efforts started by the Eastern State Task Force in 1988, the same year the building first opened for limited group tours.

ESP1

Representing a testimony to survival, The Ghost Cats was an artist installation at ESP created by Linda Brenner.  A colony of cats decided to take up residence at the abandoned jail after it closed in 1971.  For 28 years, “Dan the Cat Man” (Dan McCloud) devoted his time to visiting the abandoned prison to care for the cats.

ESP: Ghost Cat

Can You Find The GHOST CAT?

In 1993, The Spayed Club neutered the ESP cats and their population finally started to dwindle.  The last of the cats died off between 2002 and 2003.

Ghost Cat

Observant visitors could locate all 36 cat sculptures throughout the prison museum in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.  The installation was placed beyond the areas where on-lookers are allowed access, in the hopes that the sculptures will be viewed as a part of the larger past existence of the life and history of the building.  The exhibit was dedicated to “Dan the Cat Man” who passed away in April of 2002.

Guard Tower ghost catGuard Tower GHOST CAT

Ghost Cat AlleyGHOST CAT Alley

 

ESP Death RowDeath Row

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Kirby Park Ruins: Walk With History Along The Olmsted Trail

A Companion Post for Kirby Park Ruins: The Video

The Central Park / Kirby Park Connection

Credited with inventing the profession of “landscape architect”, Frederick Law Olmsted, Sr. is said to have   planned the American landscape itself.  This 19th-century visionary designed Central Park in New York City (with Calvert Vaux) and conceived the idea of a “parkway” for vehicles— on a driving tour of nature. During a history spanning 125 years, the Olmsted firm completed more than 3,000 landscapes across the United States and Canada, with Fredrick Law Olmstead, Jr., eventually heading the family firm and becoming internationally renowned as a landscape architect himself. The Olmsted impact touched upon parks, suburbs, cemeteries, private estates (including the Vanderbilt Mansion), conservation areas, and university campuses.

Fred Morgan Kirby donated more than 70 acres of riverfront land on the west bank of the Susquehanna River and Wilkes-Barre City commissioned the famed Olmsted Brothers firm to design “a park for the people” in 1921.

 Obviously, since it is so prone to flooding, Kirby Park has experienced many changes since the Olmsted Brother days.  But ironically, it is because of the flooding that a piece of “lost” Olmsted history still remains in Luzerne County today, hidden away in the “natural area” of Kirby Park, near the banks of the Susquehanna River, because it remained abandoned for several decades.

The path to abandonment began when Kirby Park was washed out with the flood of 1936. At that point, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers decided that a levee system that sliced through Kirby Park would best serve the city of Wilkes-Barre in terms of flood protection. This division created the divide that distinguishes between the “natural” and the city-maintained areas of Kirby Park.

 While the park on one side of the levee remained a neatly manicured public area, the other side became overgrown and even served as an illegal dumping ground for unwanted debris for several decades.   During the 1990s, preservationists started clearing the long-forgotten area between the levee and the Susquehanna River, uncovering a handful of lost ruins.  

The paved part of the trail that still remains today is the remnant of an old bridle path that wound thru that part of the park decades ago and is now known as the Olmsted Trail. Riverside, you will find the Reflecting/Wading Pool area, which was part of the original Olmsted design, in addition to the remains of the Caretaker’s Cottage.  According to the plans, this area was used as a children’s playground, although no attempt was made to install the usual playground equipment.

The intention was to use the Cottage as a rest room for women and children in the front, with an apartment available for the caretaker in the rear.  Outside of this rest room was a pergola with stone pavement.  A broad flight of concrete steps led to the wading pool and sand beds below. 

As you continue further down the trail, if you look hard enough, you will locate the remains of a bandstand in the wooded area off to the left, near the Olmsted Trail sign.  The Kirby Park Bandstand included a concrete foundation with a large storeroom beneath.   In November of 1944, local news reports describe the structure as having “fallen into disrepair” in an article about a fire started in the bandstand by youngsters playing in the shell. 

On the remainder of the path you can search for the remains of a pavilion and two other abandoned structures of controversial origin.  Some of the structures are difficult to locate during the summer months because of the abundance of plant life in the area.

The next time you visit Kirby Park, consider taking a walk with history along the Olmsted Trail.  Or, you can just watch the video for a look at the Olmsted trail “then and now”.

You can find the video at:

Kirby Park Ruins: The Video

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Kirby Park Ruins: The Video

For Those Who Want History Served With A Side Of Adventure

(An Unemployed Zombie Building Infiltration Specialist Production)

Remnants of a distant age whose memories are only vaguely preserved, you cannot deny the romance and intrigue surrounding “lost” ruins.  They give us a connection to the past that’s visceral, hinting at a tale full of both splendor and calamity. 

Over the decades, a sense of mystery has slowly enveloped the Kirby Park Ruins, blurring the line between fact and urban legend.  All that is left for history to do now is collect the few clues that can be found scattered about, and attempt to hammer them together to marvel at the stories they may reveal. 

Reclaimed by the grasping fingers of  nature, despoiled by human hands, and buried beneath the mud of the mighty Susquehanna River, these monuments to Wilkes-Barre’s days-gone-by have suffered the same fate experienced by all ancient monuments.

So why not cater to your sense of adventure, get your “Indiana Jones” on, and walk hand-in-hand with history and mystery by exploring the Kirby Park Ruins for yourself? 

You can also watch the video here:

Kirby Park Ruins: The Video

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And don’t miss the companion post:

Kirby Park Ruins: Walk with History along the Olmsted Trail

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For more information about these mysterious ruins, visit:

Kirby Park Zoo Ruins: Ooops!  Maybe Not!

&

The Animals Of The “Lost” Kirby Park Zoo

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