I have a deep abiding fondness for all things abandoned. To drive past a place lost in time makes my heart go pitter-patter. To visit whole towns with sleeping beauty syndrome starts my synapses dancing like Christopher Walken.
So when I recently had the opportunity to visit the Riverview Hospital Compound Grounds with their many defunct psychiatric buildings and quarters… it was an easy yes. Not my ideal situation but close enough.
This place is rumored to give the heebie-geebies to even the most logical of minds. I suppose on a blustery winter day, there could be the potential for spookiness. With a byzantine blue sky and sweltering heat, this was a day designed for picnicking. Ripe blackberries made for delightful snacking off the vine.
It’s true that some folks find fodder for fear in the abandoned. Personally, forgotten places give me a sense of ease. Often standing in amongst a row of perfect stately homes, one abandoned manor will rest in total disarray. It may be strewn with black leaves from seasons of missing staffers. The grounds sit entirely overgrown. The roof sagging and windows baring shards like a mouth full of old teeth. Yet moms will still jog by with their yoga outfits on, pushing strollers with earbuds in, barely giving the chained wrought iron gates a second glance. Beautiful homes left to their own demise, a heritage of abandonment. Would the Mayans have their temples and dwellings in such a state? I wonder if a metaphor for how we treat our chronically ill can be found if we were to pour forensic plaster in this place.
I do know that I feel a connection with the abandoned spaces of our times. My architecture is fine. I have “Good Bones”. But I haven’t been able to keep things up. The roof has fallen into disrepair. The gutters have gotten away from me. I am pretty sure a cherry tree has taken root in the observatory, and that was before the water damage.
These abandoned spaces have a resigned weariness and a quiet beauty to them that I recognize. Most have stories we could never imagine. Sometimes I like to just sit and imagine the lives they have seen and the seasons they have weathered. Maybe too I like to believe that these places become more themselves in time. That the broken windows and boarded up doors mean the houses have reclaimed the space for themselves. While I appreciate many forms of beauty, having spent time photographing models and actors, I appreciate character above form. That is something I think we all have in spades. Character.
Certainly, we could all use a little more appreciation for our broken bits and tired wiring. So next time you drive by an abandoned building, pause and appreciate all it has gone through and maybe even smile knowing it has more life left it in than we mere mortals might imagine.