Gothic churches splashed with neon graffiti, wooden rollercoasters given over to the surrounding trees, majestic domes and marbled staircases and soaring ceilings, all abandoned to the elements. Captured by the camera’s lens, these landmarks — crumbling, delicate, nostalgic, and surprisingly moving — are a portal to another time.
Photographer and author Janine Pendleton, originally from Manchester, England, travels the world searching for beautiful desertion to document what’s left behind when people move on and nature takes over. She’s explored derelict sites in 17 countries, but the relics of Pennsylvania had a particular appeal.
At the beginning of the 20th century, Pennsylvania was a posh up-and-comer. It was the Gilded Age when the revenue from coal and steel made possible elaborate building projects and public works. A few decades later, the bubble burst; churches, factories, schools, hospitals, and theaters were forsaken, their columns and domes left to deteriorate.
To capture these images, Janine and her travel buddy embarked on a 2500-mile road trip in 2018, photographing nearly 60 abandoned locations. ‘We landed in New York, then drove straight to Pennsylvania,’ she says. Ultimately, the pair spent five days in the Keystone State and photographed 21 sites. Get the behind-the-scenes stories and photos of Janine’s epic 2018 road trip here.
Pendleton finds her damaged beauties through a combination of online research — digging into historical accounts, maps, and satellite images — and being part of a community of like-minded artists and friends. ‘A third way,’ she says, ‘is pure luck.’
She’s also careful to note that she has a personal code of urban exploration and doesn’t share the specific addresses of the locations she finds. ‘I like to visit places that are free of vandalism and graffiti, places that have naturally decayed… Also, many places I visit are filled with old and interesting items. Sadly, too many people are unable to resist taking souvenirs. I’m opposed to any form of destruction or damage, as well as theft.’
The 130+ photos in Pendleton’s book are accompanied by evocative text that’s a lovely surprise. The images could stand on their own, but she enhances the story — and the poignancy — by sharing first-hand details of visiting the sites, along with bits of history, lore, and legend. A discarded church is now ‘filled with pigeons.’ A former mayor’s office has ‘files and stationery littering the desk, and the room appears relatively untouched.’ But it’s not all heartbreak; many of the buildings in her book are on the brink of revitalization. ‘Yet there is hope for this wonderful building as a new restoration project is working in partnership with the local community to offer it a new lease on life.’
Dilapidated but still vital and somehow regal, these treasures are fuel for the imagination and a reminder to see the beauty in the ordinary world around us.
You can order this book directly from the author. You’ll get extra prints from Janine and the knowledge that you’re directly supporting an artist. You can also request it from your favorite local bookseller, or order online at bookshop.org.
The cities of Pennsylvania are littered with abandoned churches, discarded as the small congregations merged together… There are forgotten theaters, which once hosted sell-out performances but now lie silent and lost… Old theme parks closed as their rides aged and the excitement they offered waned… One by one, these hidden treasures are lost as time, and the world moves on around them… The loss of history is something that always comes with a measure of sadness. This book explores the beauty that lies in these forgotten places, often hiding in plain sight on the streets of Pennsylvania. — Janine Pendleton
This photography book (96 pages) was published in December of 2019 by America Through Time. The book takes you to Pennsylvania. Melissa read Abandoned Pennsylvania and loved it; it wouldn't be on our site if she didn't recommend it.
Bookshop.org is an online bookstore with a mission to financially support independent bookstores and give back to the book community.
Top image courtesy of Janine Pendleton/Obsidien Urbex Photography.
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