My photography has taken a new turn as of late. I am obsessed with taking photos of old, rusty, abandoned or forgotten towns, buildings, barns, houses and vehicles in Northeastern Oklahoma. Ever since I found out about Bird Creek School and the town of Whizbang and wrote about them, I have been researching other abandonments in this part of Oklahoma. This part of the state is a treasure trove of old stuff that nobody wants anymore. Lucky for me, that stuff is left to decay, rot, become overgrown and totally photogenic! Some of the places are historic and there have been attempts to restore them back to some form of their previous glory. But mostly, they are left unattended and considered, I’m sure, as an eyesore for the average citizen living within the vicinity of such a structure. It’s a shame that not all small towns have the resources to maintain these wonderful pieces of history. Maybe that is why I am so taken with this kind of photography. It’s my way of preserving what is left of yesterday today for tomorrow’s generation. It’s history that should not be forgotten.
For sure, it is fascinating stuff. As I locate these subjects, I do some research online to find out it’s history. Sometimes I am surprised at what I find. For instance, the town in which I am currently living is considered a ghost town. Granted, it’s small. Only about 200 people, but we have a post office, a gas/grocery store, a feed mill, a feed store and a couple of churches that seem to be packed on Sunday morning. What I learned, however, is that this town used to have 2000 people, a bank, a couple of hotels, a school and a host of other businesses. When the railroad was continued on towards Tulsa in the early 1900’s, people started to follow and eventually the town was all but abandoned. Sadly, all those buildings were destroyed by a tornado that nearly wiped the town off the map in 1991. Those buildings will not make it into my photographic archive, but I am determined to capture many of the other buildings within a days driving distance, before they, too, become a casualty.
A few weeks ago, my other half told me about a worn out building that he thought was at one time a country school house. He drives by it quite frequently on his feed deliveries. Frankly, I was surprised he hadn’t mentioned it to me sooner, given I was so smitten with old, decrepit things. He gave me directions and with one of the teenagers in tow, I headed north into Nowata County. The air was humid and warm. We had had a lot of rain in June and coupled with the Oklahoma heat, it made for a sticky day.
We found the lonely looking building on the corner, just where my other half said it would be. What a treasure it was! I quickly pulled over and grabbed my camera. There was a gravel drive leading into the pasture where the school house sat, but it hadn’t been used in years. It was overgrown with grass and old cans and bottles were scattered about. I was glad I had opted for jeans and sneakers as opposed to my usual summertime attire of shorts and flip flops. I had to get closer to that building! I carefully made my way through the tall grass, snapping images as I went and checking my footing with every step. Lord, I hope there wasn’t anything slithering around below my feet! The ground was swampy from all the rain, but I could see where deer had been traipsing through the field. This is the path I took. I made it to the fence and decided I wasn’t going to get any closer. At least not on this day. The grass was too tall and the deer trail ended at the fence. I looked around and noticed not only the skeleton of a swing set that the other half had mentioned, but also a merry go round buried in waist high weeds and a teeter totter peeking through a tree. A rusty flag pole stood empty in front of the building. There was no indication of what this school was called. No name above the open door. No district number carved in the plank walls. No rusted out sign leaning against the fence. Nothing. I decided that I was going to have to dig deep on this one. I was right. I am still trying to find out what this building’s history is. I’ve talked to my local historical society, the Nowata County Historical Society, posted pictures on a Facebook page, but no one seems to know what this building is or was.
I haven’t given up yet. This week, I am taking a copy of the photograph pictured below to the Nowata Historical Society, hoping it will jar the memory of someone there. Directions alone couldn’t do it. When I find out it’s history, I will let you know. I plan on going back to this lonely place when the weather cools down and the leaves start to change. When I don’t have to swat at mosquitoes or pull ticks off my jeans. I think a light dusting of snow would make this school postcard-like. Serene, peaceful and hauntingly beautiful.
I hope you will enjoy my new obsession. I have acquired several images of Northeast Oklahoma’s forgotten places and will be sharing them soon. Until then, have safe and happy travels!