I grew up on 4th and Gibson in Gary, Indiana. I spent a lot of time exploring in the dunes and woods, which my Dad walked through to US Steel (we didn’t have a car). I took notice of roads that were no longer used, crumbling foundations where houses once stood, and even horse stalls overcome by marshes.
Every year my family took the train from Union Station to visit the rest of our kin in McKeesport or Pittsburgh, PA. Back in those days, Union Station was grand. It had long steps that led up to the platform where you’d board the Chessie System, B&O, and Penn RR locomotives. With my nose pressed to the window for 8 hours at a time, I’d watch in wonder as the small towns, factories, and buildings rolled by.
Once the trains stopped service to and from Union Station in the late 1970’s, I started wandering around Union Station for the joy of it. The building held so many memories. When I saw that the Decay Devils were embracing the property, I decided to embrace them. I came to an event and found my people, people who love to explore and document history.
I’m a cemetery walker, an ordained minister, and a chaplain. I’m fascinated by markers that have been left behind, and I’m wonder-struck by the people who crafted them. I look at a busted up and dangling sign on a storefront and think, “Imagine the individuals who raised that sign… the pride in their business, their store.” I know that most churches back in the day were completed thanks to the donations of families and artisans, whether it be money, stained glass windows, altars, or pulpits. I frequently walk in Gary’s abandoned churches and think of the families who sacrificed so much so that they and others had a beautiful place to worship.
As a chaplain, I have incredible opportunities to talk to the elders of my city. I remember one hospital visit where an older gentleman in his 80’s talked about his work as a young man. There was an article about the Decay Devils in the newspaper, and he talked about how he worked on many of the city’s buildings as a carpenter. He visibly brightened as he explained how he fashioned the wooden rails and such. His hands instinctively moved as if he were carving wood right then and there. When I told him about the Decay Devils’ efforts to preserve this work—his work—and the craftsmanship of others, his expression said it all. It was a clear, “Ahh.” Relief.
As a member of the Decay Devils, I’m able to experience and help preserve these abandoned yet sacred places in our community. I continually appreciate all who made these landmarks possible, and all the people who once crowded into the theaters and dance halls and churches. As one who has always been sensitive to the spiritual, I feel the presence of others. Decay Devils understands that, and they understand the tremendous value in these abandoned places. The photographs they take allow us to cross over into another time, to witness a bygone world that we can reminisce over and learn from. Their preservation efforts keep history alive and prevents the work of those craftsman, donors, and dwellers from being forgotten.
In Hinduism, “darshan” is the enlightenment one experiences while viewing a holy image, icon, etc. Not only do you see, but you are seen. It is an interaction. Decay Devils is like that.