By now you know I really like to drive around and photograph abandoned stuff. Whenever I find a cool site I’m happy as anything to capture it. There is a little conflict of feeling though…that possibly the reason for the abandonment isn’t a benign one, but maybe something unhappy or even violent.
I don’t know the stories behind why these places are left empty. Probably never will. And, like pretty much everyone else who shoots this kind of thing, I wonder at what happened.
The most likely reason for it is economic – no jobs, no work, no way to make money. Northern Wisconsin is a tough place to live for these reasons. Farming is hard and big agriculture has made it worse. What little manufacturing there was is gone to foreign countries. Timber is still thriving, but it isn’t what it was.
It’s a chicken-and-egg scenario – populations are thin because there’s no work, companies don’t expand in these areas because there’s not enough people. When my husband and I were moving to this area we heard stories about the Harley-Davidson plant up in Tomahawk. That another town refused to have the factory because it would drive up wages and ‘hurt’ the other businesses in the area because they might not be able to pay a competitive wage. Wow. That’s really short-sighted. But it happens all the time.
So people have to leave. And when they do things go empty. Things sit. Each failure touches everything around it like ripples in a pond. If enough farms fail, the suppliers leave, the railroads stop running. Everything stops.
Of course it’s not as bleak as I make it out to be. People still live up this way and so there is work. Some of it becomes seasonal and tourist-driven. Farmland gives way to neighborhoods. Pristine lakes to resorts and summer homes.
But even the seasonal folks drift away. The lady that owned the house where I found that funny bench used to come up during the summers, but she got old and died and that was that. At least that’s what the man I spoke to when he stopped in his pick-up told me. He asked if I was with a real estate office and if the place might be selling. Alas, no. If she has any family they aren’t interested in the house. It’s in the middle of farm country and not sexy in the least. It’s not valuable real estate and doesn’t have to be sold so it sits. Solitary and sheltered behind a screen of trees. Some are lonely in the open and while the buildings may stagnate and crumble, the fields are still working. Both of these next images had newer buildings on the property and seemed to still be farmed. So there’s still production. Usefulness.
Sometimes buildings themselves can be a little bit of a mystery. Like this one –
As you can see it’s pretty small. Just above the door is a plaque that reads Kellogg-American. A quick google search shows it’s a brand of industrial compressors and is still a going concern. I didn’t go in the building so I’m left to wonder what it was used for. There isn’t anything else near it.
Oh if they could only talk.
Even though I think sometimes that this is a little bit exploitative, I won’t stop doing it. And though I enjoy photographing them, they also make me sad. When I meet a person who asks me what I’m doing I basically lead with how sad it is that the place is falling down and that I want to preserve at least the memory of what was. The lives led and the land loved. It isn’t bullshit. I’m sincere. I wish things could be different, but they aren’t and I think my little efforts are respectful and keep me in touch with a way of life I have never known.
Hi, Kristin – I often have similar thoughts when looking at old photos of people I never knew. I wonder what their lives were like. Were they born in the house behind them? Did they die there? Were they happy? The same for the houses: How many people were born or died in one of its rooms? Did the house ring with laughter on holidays? Recently I was thinking that someday in the future, people will look back on our time and think how quaint things were in these now “olden days” — when people were identified by and persecuted for their race or some other characteristic, when people used to use fossil fuels to heat their homes and power their cars, when so many were ignorant of science and how so many needlessly died before their time during the great pandemic. And what happened since? Were there huge numbers of climate refugees? Did we get our act together and create a better world? Or are things much darker in that future day?
They do that in Star Trek TNG – often comment on the barbarity or backwardness of the 20th and 21st centuries. I hope there will be something better in future.