In September of 1957, about 80 people who worked at the Lonaconing Silk Mill discovered that the doors were locked; the mill had closed, never to reopen again. Everything inside; the remaining silk, bobbins, equipment and the personal possessions of those reporting to work that day would be sealed inside a time warped moment that would not see the light of day until many years later.
For me, being a member of The Arcanum and working with Master Photographer A.D. Wheeler, I was able to gain access to a place frozen in time and slowly crumbling under the weight of decades of disrepair. Sections of the building are open to the sky with other sections; now unsafe to move about, I was lucky enough to gain access and spend just 4 precious hours exploring and exposing; to see and feel the incredible history, as if it had been lost in decaying time and space.
We Traveled in Groups, One Floor at a Time.
Dropping deep into the basement, darkness surrounded me like still muddy water, with muted hints of ambient light on the perimeter. The musky, pungent smell of rot and mold were ever-present as I moved further into the darkness with only a small flashlight. Ancient hanging bulbs were scattered in distant corners and at first I gravitated to those, but soon realizing the windows were far more interesting.
The way the mill was abandoned was most remarkable. Nothing was sold, nothing was moved, no one seemed to care once the mill stopped. Like a starving, crawling centipede with a hundred legs deprived of nourishment, squished under the weight of foreign, Asian competitors, The Silk Mill just died. The silence must have been deafening, the loud mechanical rhythm of hundreds of machines suddenly instantly stopped. If they could talk, all they would say is “why?” Just what their loyal operators must have asked over and over again themselves.
When I was alone, deep into the abandoned world I had entered, I thought I could hear the chatter of people who were about ready to change their shoes so they could go home for the evening.
I listened as hard as I could. I wasn’t sure what they said, but it was a happy sound, a scattering of laughter and a few deep sighs from a long shift at work. I thought I could see sixty years stream by me in a swoosh, leaving me here in 2015 to see only the deepest imprints of time’s cruelest weapon as she fed slowly but steadily on the still but once vibrant infrastructure.
A Place of Refuge
Don’t be fooled by the photographer’s craft; my goal is to make you see this through my own eyes, not as it was. For as it was you would not want to see. The filth and stench were overwhelming yet the visual stimulation to my imagination crackled with excitement, for that’s what we do, we see things to make beauty from. That was my intention and only you will know if I accomplished my goal that day, deep in the western corner of Allegany County, MD. Why did I drive 600 miles to get there? Because I could. My reward being this experience, these images and now you reading my words. That’s why.
Look Up. You never know what you will find when you do. The most interesting shapes, patterns, and craftsmanship are sometimes completely hidden and exist only to please the Journeyman who painstakingly measured the distance between curved wire conduits, just because it was their art; their craft and looking up, I could tell they loved what they did.
One more walk through before my experience was to be completed; I had to step back and admire the symmetry and majesty of the machinery as it stood ready to work but lay idle for as many years as it had. No, this factory will never work again but should it not be preserved for the sake of showing the industrial age to those who know only iPads and cell phones? I think so and several others do too. But when Herb Crawford (the current heir to the property) decides that it’s no longer worth the trouble, expense or hassle of trying to keep the roof from falling in, it will be lost forever.
Yet but for the eyes and efforts of us: the photographers who venture into abandoned spaces to make art, mostly for our own entertainment, it will be lost forever. Thank you to A.D. Wheeler for taking me there. See A.D’s incredible blog post of this exact same location HERE.
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