“What is so disconcerting about abandoned places?” I found myself asking this question as my youngest daughter and I clicked through endless photos on Google. The journey started when I found an album of photographs taken at a now abandoned theme park I had visited as a child called “Boblo Island”. This isn’t the first time I had traveled this dark internet rabbit hole, and I have actually become familiar with most of the standards, from the giant graffiti covered Gulliver from the closed Camelot theme park in Lancashire England, to the remains of Chernobyl. Photographers love to capture the rotting corpses of once beautiful and thriving places in Detroit. Even Disney has an abandoned waterpark carefully hidden from view on it’s Orlando grounds.
As I went through the Boblo pictures, I was also mentally recalling the photographs I have of myself as a child. My mother had one of them hanging in a collage type frame for years. Each picture I looked at I thought, “I could have been standing there at one time”. The skeletal remains of the Boblo ferries were terrifying. “I wonder if I have been on that boat”. I thought. For some reason, the thought that I had once been there scared me. Why? I wondered. It’s no different from any other place expect that the ‘presence of the absence’ is measurable.
If I were to stand in an open field, I would never give a second thought to the thriving farm that may have inhabited the same land hundreds of years ago. I wouldn’t think, “at one time, people lived here, were happy here, had tragedies and dreams.” Why? Because there would be no evidence that it had ever existed. I could happily assume that it was an open plot of land and had always been so. When the framework of the old house exists, the perspective changes. The ghosts of the former tenants spring to life and the mind is compelled to search for more information.
Houses are very spooky, as seen in countless horror films. The general consensus is ‘the older, the creepier’. For example, an empty house built in the 90’s is just touring real estate compared to a two story farmhouse constructed in the early 1800’s. People assume paranormal activity waits around every corner. And while I do not believe in the “supernatural”, I do admit that there is a definite feeling that overtakes one in these situations.
Although abandoned houses are disconcerting, another level is reached when it is full of relics. Furniture, decorations, and even paperwork strewn upon the floor. The emblems of a life interrupted. The evidence of private pain. It can be the chaos of fleeing quickly because of some impending doom; or the untouched, dust covered evidence of a life that time forgot.
Worst of all, is the abandoned amusement park. The garish faces of once brightly colored mascots, the decaying roller coasters, the decrepit food stands and gift shops. Water parks are especially terrifying with their broken down, rust infused slides ending in black, murky pools. I find myself at once terrified and intrigued. How does this collection of rusty metal, wooden frames, and overgrown vegetation illicit such strong feelings? I pondered this as I poured myself a second cup of coffee. Maybe it is because they are reminders of what used to be, and symbols of cancelled hope. There are songs, smells and people in my life that feel the same to me, I realized. The imagination reconstructs what used to be, and a sadness swoops in when it realizes that it can’t be any longer. The hope of what could be is dashed. Potential, dissipates.
It makes me sad to see places of fun turn to places of horror. Just as in my life, it makes me sad to see places and things that I once enjoyed turn to pain.