abandoned chicago

Abandoned Factory Tour: Acme Coke Plant, Chicago. 2.26.17

Another place I have wanted to explore for a long time crossed off the list.

Panoramic view of the ovens and coal tower with Matthew, Nate, Aubrey, and Peggy. This gives an idea of the massive size of those ovens.

At the end of last month some of my daring photographer friends and I finally made it to the South Deering neighborhood of Chicago to explore what used to be the enormous Acme Coke and Steel Plant.  Thanks Matthew, Peggy, Nate, and Aubrey for a great day.

Coking, in case you are wondering, is the baking of coal in huge ovens and turning it into a cleaner and more efficient fuel used in old huge blast furnaces. Many of these furnaces were lined up along Lake Michigan but are now demolished; according to information I found, only one is still in operation at U.S. Steel in Gary, Indiana. This area of the city was known for its steel production for most of the 20th century, and this particular plant opened in 1905. According to substreet.org, by 1909, the Acme Coke Plant spanned over 100 acres and had over 100,000 square feet of factory space.  In 2001 the factory closed for good, although it was saved for a short while in 2004 by the Calumet Heritage Partnership and provided them with enough time for them to collect historical artifacts, documents, and etc. for a museum. It was later mostly demolished, and what remains is what we got to see.

I'm sure the grounds are filled with lead, asbestos, mold,  coal (all over the place), and all other kinds of bad stuff, but seeing the grounds, going into some buildings, climbing part of the coal tower (it was way too windy to climb to the top for Nate, Matt, and me - a rare decision based on what we thought would be safe - see I'm not that crazy), seeing the ovens, finding old documents from as far back as the 1950's, and walking the grounds was interesting and worth the time and effort it took to get there. 

Proof that I was the chicken thanks to Aubrey. Yep, that's me cowering in the corner on the far right, not even standing.

First, we had to walk through some of the old buildings. It's crazy what is left behind. So many boots, hard hats, pairs of goggles, gloves and other items workers had used.

As we walked towards the coal tower and the coke ovens, which were what I really wanted to see, we saw what a wasteland the property had become.  We saw trash, of course, but also clothes, boots, a burned up truck, and half-standing buildings.

From previously seen pictures, I pictured the ovens and tower as taking up some space but not really tall and huge, like they were. The first set of ovens reminded me of tall ancient Roman ruins, except instead of white they were burned into colorful brick. The second set of ovens looked were shorter, but just as colorful. And even though it was a bright, sunny day, it was very cold and windy, so windy that it took me a good ten minutes to stand up on a platform  to look out over the grounds after climbing partially up the coal tower. Getting up there was hard enough - stepping on beams and sliding up through narrow slats until making it to the platform, but the wind was almost too much. I was afraid  to put my camera bag down. We found the yellow outer stairway leading to the very top of the tower, but Matthew, Nate, and I unfortunately and rarely decided it was too dangerous to climb to the top. See. I'm not as crazy as you think. Getting to the platform was good enough. 

Interesting, worth it, another good place to explore and photograph, and another part of history that could soon be forgotten. Thanks for a good day you guys, and thanks for the logistics, Matthew! 

 

Aubrey, Peggy, Nate, and Matthew around some of the grounds.

For more information on this factory, there are a bunch of places to check out, but here are a couple of good ones.

http://substreet.org/acme-coke/
http://www.idaillinois.org/cdm/landingpage/collection/pshs02

Urban Exploring Adventure. Location: Southside of Chicago. 1.3.17

I obviously go exploring a lot, but not too often to huge factories on a planned trip with other people. Those adventures are pretty rare, but I had one on Tuesday, and it was a good one. Originally we were supposed to go on that really cold Sunday a few weeks ago, but none of us wanted to be outside for 5 hours in -14 degree real temperatures, so it was rescheduled for the 3rd. I finally got to meet Matthew (aka Steadlens) from Instagram; we have been messaging about places for a long time, and Jessi and Carolyn, two other photographers who love shooting and exploring also came with. Small groups are the best groups. Anyway, we pulled it off without a hitch (that's what good research does - thanks Matthew!) and it ended up being a great place. It  was a huge factory that used to manufacture mining locomotives but was then used to make parade floats and store them. Unfortunately, there was a recent fire, and a lot of the floats burned. Not all though. Pretty crazy. Actually, part of the intrigue for me besides the history is what gets left behind. I really don't understand it or what happens to it, and there is so much out there. This little hobby that turned into an all out obsession, and basically a second career of mine, has really opened my eyes to a lot of things I never thought about before. Another interesting part of going on "field trips" like this with other photographers is how everyone comes up with different shots of either the same thing or of things others missed. It always starts and ends the same way: we go find a way in together, walk around and ooh and ahh a bit, make sure it's an okay place to stay, and then become distracted with the things we find interesting individually. Then we usually end up on our own, and we don't even talk. It's funny. It's just about dead silent because everyone is so focused at first. For example, I was alone for about two hours by myself in there yesterday, but then we ended up finding each other in the same spot, which always happens and surprises me because usually we get there in different ways, and the buildings are huge.  So, here's some of what I came up with from yesterday's trip:

These first few are how we had to get to the property we were looking for. Much easier than expected. Just had to get to the back of the building somehow.

The next few images are what we saw as we walked closer: the place, up close to our destination, the now defunct railroad tracks that go through the entire ground floor of the building, and the only way to get in and out.

After we got in, this was where we stuck together and did the holy cow this is awesome thing! These were all taken on the first floor, before we got stuck on our individual journeys. By the way, the gears taken in these pictures were the so BIG. They were taller than me, and by a lot. 

And now for some of the rest of what I have: a combination of what I found when alone and what I took when we found each other. The only scary thing that happened to me all day was that a disgusting, small dog-sized sewer rat jumped out in front of me in the dark area you'll see. There was water in there, and that's the only time I really screamed. All I can think about is how it looked at me and about its long, gross tail. Eww. 

So that'll be it for me for awhile, as far as taking a major field trip like this. I'm wiped out, and that's because I am old and don't think or feel like I am, so I always overdo it! The next shoot will be before school starts back up, and that will be one more for the Yellow Glove Series, and I have  to say I'm really excited about it and where it will take place!