The Long Way Home


The Mystery of Circus Town
March 9, 2010, 8:25 PM
Filed under: Pennsylvania | Tags: , , , ,

What was Circus Town? A coworker of Jeff’s said this abandoned theme park once housed a petting zoo and carnival rides. I didn’t realize until later that the photos I had taken this past Saturday in Butler County were all circus-related: Humpty Dumpty towering over the Country Kitchen on Route 8; a closed hot dog shop in Butler; and even the Book Nook sign is like a striped circus tent. The 4 o’clock sun cast long shadows across the Circus Town road entrance like fun house mirror images. My photo narrative is becoming more intuitive. 

entrance to Circus Town

Humpty Dumpty watching over Route 8

Book Nook

 

The Hot Dog Shop

4:00 shadow

house skeleton on the Circus Town property

no longer served

 

final act

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Oil City Slickers
January 28, 2010, 10:45 PM
Filed under: Pennsylvania | Tags: , , , , , ,

 

trees at dusk, Pithole

I have spent the past month recovering from holiday drama, as well as dealing with a more recent family situation that has left me zoned-out on Netflix-on-Demand to escape from it all (and a dose of Wii bowling doesn’t hurt either). All this and the general winter blues has temporarily stolen my motivation to write or take photos. Jeff and I are getting ready for our two-person art show next week, which has been super stressful. To feel productive, I organized our external hard drive and found photos from a weekend trip we had in the Oil City region of Pennsylvania.

Tracing the progression of our trip through these photos makes me laugh. Where else can you sleep in a boxcar, walk the streets of a ghost town and troll a basement full of forgotten musical instruments being guarded by a mannequin majorette all in one weekend? 

safety phone, Oil city

I love exploring old, industrial towns and this area held promises of abandoned derricks in locals’ backyards, Victorian houses, spirits of oil barons and  steam trains. When we arrived in Oil City,  a storm was about to blow through, the bleak grey sky intensifying the color of the buildings around us.

Elks Club, Oil City

 

“What are you doing here?” A teen-aged boy hauling a couch into a local junk shop asked us as he watched me take pictures of his town. And it made me think, why are we here?

inside of an organ, Debence Antique Music World basement, Franklin

 

The romantic lure of a long-dead industry suddenly made me feel like a voyeur and somewhat of an ass for toting around my camera attempting to document rural town life. I could tell from the boy’s tone of voice and his look of disgust that he pretty much thought Oil City sucked and that we sucked for being there. I looked around and even on a Saturday, it was quiet. Aside from a coffee shop up the street, the library, and the junk shop workers, we could have been the only people there.

Chinese restaurant, Titusville

 

I’m a city girl who entertains ideas of living in a sleepy, small town where I can clear my brain. Maybe I’ll get more done, be less anxious. Oil City offers an artists’ relocation program to attract people to their region, revitalize homes and set up a creative community.  The houses there are incredible and beautiful. We not only wanted to scout the area for our typical trash-hunting purposes, but also see if we could ever live there.

8 track at Debence Antique Music World, Franklin

 

We’re not going to live there, but we do this when we take our long drives and point to houses, “Can I have it?” The dream begins.  If we lived there, we would have a spiral staircase, or a fireman’s pole leading to the second floor. A covered porch, and a mud room. Chickens in a coop out back and an old school bus converted into Jeff’s studio A giant empty room for my photography. Long hallways flooded with light. But all of this, in the city. In my search for home, I know that’s where I belong. Dreaming of a slow, quiet summer in the middle of this dark winter fills me with stories. 

a view from the Caboose Motel, Titusville

 

a church, Oil City

 

Jeff and Dan, Pithole



Treasures in Pottery Valley

Thanksgiving weekend took Jeff, Bill and me  to Pottery Valley, the Ohio/West Virginia/ Pennsylvania pocket of towns that once served as the china capital of the world. We traveled Route 65 to 68, passing through Rochester, Beaver and Industry along the Ohio River.

We know this route pretty well since we go trash-hunting along it quite often. Jeff has taken some more ominous shots of the nuclear plant in Shippingport, but it was surreal to see the plant puffing out clouds in the background of this quiet rural town on such a beautiful sunny Saturday. Nobody was around and you couldn’t hear anything except for a low hum coming from the plant and our footsteps echoing in the church parking lot where we took these photos.

Our main reason for going this route was to shop at our favorite antique mall in East Liverpool. I love exploring this city full of ghosts and history and I’m trying to talk Jeff and Bill into going on one of the ghost hunting tours, mainly because we’d  gain access to places we normally wouldn’t be allowed to enter, as well as satisfy my curiosity in the supernatural (they’ll give in eventually).

I didn’t buy much on this trip except for a Bell & Howell Electric Eyewww 127 camera for $5.00, still in its original leather case. Now I have to buy 127 film so I can use this little beauty (it’s sitting on the desk here as I type so I can keep looking at it). 

But the treasures I found on this trip were more about photo-taking. Bill programmed his trusty GPS navigator to take us the ‘shortest’ route, which took us on  Ohio county back roads instead of Route 65. This view from inside the car made me beg Bill to pull over so I could capture it:

I’m disappointed that this turned out so blurry — the sun was going down, I left my tripod at home and the boys were hungry, so I felt rushed to take pictures. The factory is an abandoned chemical plant. Jeff and Bill went exploring the old offices,  paint peeling from the floor in hundreds of delicate flakes. It was in disarray as if the men who worked there were called away for only a moment, not years.

While they explored, I set the timer on my camera and placed it in the middle of the road to get this self portrait. I was afraid of a car coming around the bend, which is why it caught me about to stand up. I originally wanted to lie on my stomach and look directly at the lens. The shit I do for photography!

I promised the boys we’d eat at Brighton Hot Dogs for dinner. I ate  a hamburger and a dog loaded with chili, cheese and onions. I have a vegetarian friend who breaks anti-meat law once a year just to eat one of those dogs, so yes, they are that good – a perfect way to cap off the Thanksgiving weekend.

flickr



For Richer or Poo: a Detour through the Aluminum City

“One man’s crap is another man’s  treasure.”  Elston

Jeff and I are always on the search for trash, so one very early morning in mid-October, the two of us and Bill braved the damp chill to scour the Tour Ed Mine’s outdoor Flea-tique (that word is so awesome). There were a good number of vendors despite the frosty weather, but a die-hard trash hunter will brave all conditions to find that perfect object  she didn’t  know she even needed.

We found a bowler hat in the Alle-Kiski Historical Society booth, along with this creepy framed guilded text. Is it some sort of funeral home memorial? We aren’t sure, but it now resides in our cabinet of curiosities.

He also bought me these beautiful little opera glasses that I’ve been carrying around in my work bag for the past two months. Just in case I end up at the opera, you never know.

The morning was so sunny and beautiful, I wanted us to drive around and see what was in the area. As we drove along Route 28 through Tarentum, I asked Bill to take a right over the New Kensington bridge.

New Ken, as the locals call it, is only 20 minutes from Pittsburgh, but as most small towns in the area, it feels worlds away. There used to be radio towers there for local Pittsburgh stations. It’s the supposed birthplace of aluminum and various other industries – enameling works, glass factories, rolled steel and a brewery.

It’s a ghost town now, especially on a Sunday morning,  but Habitat for Humanity has managed to station their Pittsburgh headquarters here. We mostly took pictures from inside the car, until Jeff yelled, “Stop, now!” Holy shit, the thrift store sign was too perfect. It’s as if the whole city got up and walked away in the 80s as the industries drifted out of the region.

We walked around for a  bit taking pictures, stopping to chat with a heavy metal dude who told us New Kensington wasn’t safe to be in at night. I think it was his way of telling us to get back in our car and mosey on home. I felt like such a cliche, standing there with my camera taking pictures of broken things. I wanted to record what I saw before it wasn’t there anymore.

flickr



More Adventures from the Morningside Mural Project
October 18, 2009, 5:55 PM
Filed under: Art Gallery, Pennsylvania, United States | Tags: , , ,

I wish we could say it’s finished. But we’re not sure yet.

Jeff on his 40th birthday

Jeff on his 40th birthday

 

 

This entry was supposed to be the grand-finale blog entry documenting the completion of the Morningside mural. Jeff’s been working on this project since May – from submitting the proposal, to the preliminary designs — meetings with the Morningside community, the final design, and then the painting – two and a half months of painting (with the amazing help of Sarah W.). Finally, he rolled the last coat of clear finish to protect the mural on October 11th, his 40th birthday. It was a little chilly that afternoon, but sunny and we couldn’t have been happier. 

 

the 'final' design

the 'final' design

 

mural detail, houses

mural detail, houses

 

the final step: clear coat

the final step: clear coat

We were both pretty shocked this past Friday when someone from the Morningside community emailed Jeff, telling him that the clear coat on the mural had dripped down the length of it, causing white streaks. Who knew it would be 30 degrees and snow mixed with rain in the middle of October?  The low temperature and rain caused the streaking. Jeff was in such shock that he  had no reaction at all, which really worried me. My stomach dropped and my heart ached for him, thinking of all the hard work he put into that work. His hands were still flecked with mural paint, the greenish-blue embedded under his nails and staining his shoes. This mural had become a big part of him these past few months and to think that he might have to paint it again pretty much makes me want to puke and scream at the same time. 

 

damaged mural detail

damaged mural detail

oh deer: the clear coat didn't have enough time to dry in crap weather

oh deer: the clear coat didn't have enough time to dry in crap weather

We still had a good weekend, despite this setback (flea marketing is always good therapy for us). There is a chance that if the clear coat has a chance to fully dry on Tuesday and Wednesday when it’s sunny and in the 60s, then Jeff won’t have anything to worry about. But if it is damaged, then we start figuring out how to fix this little bitch. Here is a sneak peek of what is beneath the cloudy version:

 

gnome detail

gnome detail



Snow White and Rose Red

Sarah, Liz and I spent the afternoon in Harmony, continuing my fairy tale photo project with a reinterpretation of the tale “Snow White and Rose Red.” In the original Grimm Brothers story, Snow White and Rose Red are kind-hearted sisters who have run-ins with an ungrateful dwarf. They are frequently visited by a bear, who ends up being a prince (did I give it away?). I wasn’t sure where we’d get an angry dwarf, or a bear for that matter, but in this series of photos I concentrated on the closeness between the two sisters. You can find the ‘final’ versions at flickr.

lizwojogate



To the Ends of the Earth: Kecksburg

 

replica of ufo that landed in Kecksburg on December 9, 1965

replica of ufo that landed in Kecksburg on December 9, 1965

Ever since Jeff and I caught the Kecksburg episode of “Unsolved Mysteries,” we knew we had to check this out for ourselves. Kecksburg is only  30 miles outside of Pittsburgh, but pretty much anywhere outside the city limits feels like another world.  We set out one very frigid February afternoon, along with our friend Bill, to see what the fuss was all about.

 

Kecksburg view from the car window

Kecksburg view from the car window

 The last day of February was bitingly cold and damp and to make matters more frustrating, there were so many detours through PA66 that we passed Kecksburg a few times before finding it. It’s easy to miss — there isn’t a main street, just a house, an aluminum-sided shed-like building, a giant parking lot and a tiny sign pointing down a dirt road that directs visitors to a replica of the UFO that landed in this tiny patch of Pennsylvania land 44 years ago.

 

the road where we had to turn around and go back

the road where we had to turn around and go back

On that cold winter night, Kecksburgers reported a burst of red light trailing through the sky, then landing in a field much like the ones we passed on our way into town. What they found was a UFO that was carted away by the government. The replica is a tribute to that UFO sighting.

 

aliencorn

aliencorn

At first, Jeff, Bill and I were a little disappointed about the acorn-like structure, then full of questions about its existence. Where were the windows? What did the heiroglyphs on the side mean? Was this monument to scale? Where were the aliens? Westmoreland County, where Kecksburg lies, has some of the most active UFO sightings in the country according to a recent article in Popular Science. The boys quickly got over their initial sadness so they could document our visit to Kecksburg.

 

Bill, frequent traveling partner, stands proudly beneath the majestic aliencorn

Bill, frequent traveling partner, stands proudly beneath the majestic aliencorn

 

I think a person could fit inside that thing.

I think a person could fit inside that thing.

There were lots of cars parked in front of the windowless aluminum-sided building. This serves as the town’s Volunteer Fire Department/Bar/UFO store. We tried desperately to find a way into the store, but it was pretty dark inside. We weren’t feeling brave enough to interact with the locals in the BAR either.

alienstoresign

We didn’t hear any noise coming from the Bar, nor did we see any citizens of Kecksburg. Granted, it was freaking cold as hell, and the town is a post office town, but it gave me an eerie feeling as it grew dark. My boots were caked in a strange, skin-colored mud, which I spent most of the ride to Pittsburgh trying to scrape off. Had the land been affected by alien radiation from the giant acorn? I carried that land with me as I treaded into our city home.

 

Westmoreland County in winter

Westmoreland County in winter




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