Creepy. That’s the one word I would use to describe Elgin, Kansas. Have you ever been somewhere and it felt like all eyes were on you? And you were constantly looking over your shoulder to make sure no one was sneaking up from behind? Well, that’s the way one of the teenagers and I felt one hot evening we ventured across the state line.
Elgin, Kansas, sits in Chautauqua County, right on the Oklahoma border. I had heard about this ghost town and seen photos on Flickr, but wanted to experience it first hand. As ghost towns go, Elgin did not disappoint, but man, was it creepy!
Elgin was founded by Romulus “Rome” Hanks, a cousin to Abraham Lincoln. In 1889 the population was 300. In 1890, when the Santa Fe railroad came through, the population grew to 2300 residents and Elgin became the world’s largest cattle shipping point. Rome established a trading post and post office and was instrumental in developing the shipping that brought Elgin its short-lived prosperity. During the town’s peak, it had 5 general stores, 2 livery stables and 9 saloons. Elgin was a haven for outlaws, including the Dalton Gang and “Dynamite” Dick.
When Indian territory opened for settlement and railroads extended south, Elgin’s economy fell. Even though oil was discovered in 1902 and delayed the death of the town, the oil soon depleted and Elgin dried up. The current population is around 80 people.
The teenager and I took the “scenic” route into town. I’m always thinking I can find a shortcut to where I want to go and looking at my map, I thought there was a nice road going from Caney to Elgin. Wrong. There was a county dirt road that wound around and damn near got us lost as the sun was getting lower in the sky. We finally rolled into town and turned down an empty street. I was shocked to see a very old house literally falling down right next door to the Methodist Church, which is still in use. The house was a gold mine for photo ops so I parked the car and got out, camera in hand, ready to start firing. The teenager stayed in the car. I lined up my composition and pressed the shutter. That eerie feeling of being watched came over me, but I ignored it. I kept my eyes and ears open though, while continuing to compose my frames. When I was done, I climbed back into the car.
“Did you see that old lady over there?”, the teenager asked.
“Yes, I did. She was watching me the whole time I was taking photos.”
We drove down the street and found the “main drag”. Beautiful old buildings that now stood empty and broken along an old brick street, which seemed to be in better shape than the buildings themselves. Most of the old storefronts were boarded up and had large “Keep Out” signs posted on them. The old bank was the only building that seemed to welcome this curious photographer. The door stood open so I went in and was greeted with a cracked concrete floor and a fallen in ceiling. Tucked back in the corner was another open door. I peeked inside and was tickled to find the old safe still sitting under the stairs. As dark as it was in that room, I managed to get the camera to focus and fire. The sound of a loud truck barreling down the street with it’s radio blaring startled me back to the present. Creepy feeling again. Time to move on.
We drove back down the main street and found the city park. A lonely basketball sat next to the goal. I composed a frame and thought that it was symbolic of this creepy little town. Abandoned, forgotten and broken. A dog came trotting down the street with a strange man calling after it. Again – time to go. The guy creeped me out. And I didn’t want to get bit by his dog.
“Can we go now?”, the teenager asked. “This place is weird and there’s a creepy guy over there watching us.”
“Yes,” I replied. “I think we have over stayed our welcome. If there ever was a welcome. Let’s head back to Oklahoma.”
Even though we left town the same way we came in, we managed to find a paved road back to Oklahoma. I was able to get a lot of nice photos of Elgin, but I’m not sure I want to go back. Just to creepy for my taste. I think I’ll stick to chasing ghosts on this side of the border.
Safe and happy travels!