WHEN THINGS FALL TO RUIN: PASSION AND COURAGE AT WATERLOO VILLAGE
Back in November 2010, we attended Nathan’s 20th High School Reunion in New Jersey. He grew up in Sussex County not too far from the state’s famous Waterloo Village, a 19th-century site on the U.S. National Register of Historic Places which was, at one time, a bustling museum. Shuttered in 2006, it now sits in ruins and is abandoned (this 1981 New York Times article describes what a day at the village was like when it was operating as a museum).
Interestingly enough, Nathan’s mother had, as a child, lived in one of the houses on the property. This was during the 1930s and 1940s (more on this here—I’m not real keen on Wikipedia as a resource, but it’s the only reference I can find to this portion of the property’s history. One other note? I’m pretty sure Nathan’s mother wasn’t a “hobo”, however, it was considered, by today’s standards, low income housing). Because of the property’s current state of abandonment and the stories she’d told me about what it was like to live there, I was very anxious to see it. So the day after the reunion, before heading back toConnecticut, Nathan and I went for a drive, camera in hand.
Even on such a clear, warmish November afternoon, the place had a ghostly melancholy; among the collapsing or sagging roofs, molded visitor center floors, dilapidated signage, and vacant picnic tables I could hear voices from the past: visitors, museum staff and original residents alike (I include a complete photo tour below).
For both safety and legal reasons, we did not approach any of the buildings or try to enter them—the zoom on my camera was good enough, and should be good enough, for anyone who wants to visit. There’s a respect that must be paid.
There is an operating church on the property—The Waterloo United Methodist Church, and it was their lot in which we parked. As we were headed back to our car, a gentleman came out of the church and introduced himself (sadly, I don’t remember his name now). Nathan told the man about his personal connection with the village, and then we spent at least an hour talking about its condition and future.
We were pleased to find that there are efforts being made to restore the place to its former glory. An organization called Friends of Waterloo Village is “working in partnership with the NJ Division of Parks and Forestry to raise awareness and to raise funds to restore Waterloo Village, one building at a time. The group plans to begin their efforts with the grist mill and blacksmith shop by raising $100,000. Donations will be deposited with the NJ Land Conservancy earmarked for Waterloo Village.” One of the upcoming fundraising efforts includes the Waterloo Music Festival, which will be held on the grounds May 14 and 15, 2011 and will feature the performances of such well-knowns as the Chapins. Another is the American Heritage Festival, which will be held at the village September 17 and 18 of this year.
Before our conversation ended, the gentleman proudly showed us the original cemetery headstones, which had just recently been power-washed and restored to as close to their original condition as possible (please note that the Waterloo United Methodist Church is privately owned, and I am uncertain as to whether it was the Friends organization or the church which paid for the stone cleaning).
While there is hope, it’s a massive project. There are miles to go before they sleep, here. But based on the passion and courage of the man I talked to, I think the Friends of Waterloo Village will keep going and stay awake until they’re finished.
In many ways, Waterloo Village is an architectural metaphor for all human relationships. When things fall into ruin, it may be so overwhelming it’s easy to abandon them. But it’s important to keep in mind that this really is a choice: nothing is hopeless. Sometimes it’s just a question of our own levels of courage, how much passion we have for the project, and how much we’re willing to invest in rebuilding.
 Ira Henry Freeman, “New Jersey’s Historic Waterloo Village Turns Back the Clock,” The New York Times, May 17, 1981 http://www.nytimes.com/1981/05/17/travel/new-jersey-s-historic-waterloo-village-turns-back-the-clock.html (accessed April 19, 2011).
 That article on Wikipedia can be read here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Waterloo_Village (accessed April 15, 2011).
 The Friends of Waterloo Village’s official website: http://friendsofwaterloovillage.com/
 Sussex County, “Historic Waterloo Village to Come Alive Again!,” Sussex County New Jersey, May 27, 2010, http://www.sussex.nj.us/cit-e-access/news/index.cfm?NID=18853&TID=7&jump2=0 (accessed April 15, 2011).
 For more information and to get your tickets for the Waterloo Music Festival: http://waterloovillageevents.com
 Lyndsay Cayetana Bouchal, “Chapin Family, Molly Hatchet to headline Waterloo Music Festival,” The New Jersey Herald, March 26, 2011 http://www.njherald.com/story/news/27Waterloo (accessed April 19, 2011).
(Melissa Hunt, I understand you used to work at Waterloo Village. If you have ANY comments about any of these photos that can add depth or answer questions, please let me know or comment below. You rock!)
THE PARTY ON THE OTHER SIDE
“Break a vase, and the love that reassembles the fragments is stronger than the love which took its symmetry for granted when it was whole.”
~ Derek Wolcott, Trinidadian poet, playwright, writer, and visual artist
Knowing I was in P-Town withdrawal, my friend Pete sent me a photo on my cell phone. When it arrived and I opened the message, I didn’t know what I was looking at until I read the accompanying note: shards of an old beveled mirror. I knew why he’d sent it—I love broken, shattered, abandoned stuff; it wasn’t intended to go any deeper than that.
But it kept bugging me. I felt like it meant something.
I looked at the picture again and again, trying to figure out why I felt so drawn to it, what it was trying to say. I’m in Danbury, CT, so the day I received it was miserable, gray and snowy with the promise of four more days of it and horribly plowed roads, of course. Where he was in Provincetown, Mass., it was a clear, warm day: in the photo, the sun glinted brightly off the shards of glass.
I figured it out.
A year ago, I read a short story called “The Party Over There” by Jennifer Rachel Baumer. It was one of those pieces that blew me away to the point where it still haunts me.
It has to do with a woman’s desperate desire to escape her life. At first, she takes solace in what she finds in her mirror. Then she realizes she can take it one step further—but it will require shattering that which has given her comfort. Forever. She has to give up what is safe and comfortable so she can take a risk and go forth into the unknown. Which might end up being worse.
Enter the cliché: the grass is always greener on the other side. I believe this phrase’s original intent was to remind us that we need to be happy with what we have. That life will not, couldn’t possibly, be any better if we go shakin’ the tree. Desire for something different is dangerous. So what if you’re a little unhappy? You should be glad things aren’t worse. Some people do, I’m sure, get up every day, look in the mirror, and say, ‘this, what I have, is truly awesome. I am so happy with my life I don’t want to change one thing.’ But what about those who get up and say, ‘this, what I have, is good enough. It’s convenient and safe. I can put up with some stuff I don’t like so I don’t have to deal with the pain of change.’ In this context, the grass is greener sounds like an excuse. I’m convinced, now, that this is what some people say when they’re just too afraid to make any kind of change. This is what they say to console themselves, to justify the fact that they’d rather sit around and stagnate.
But on the positive side, the grass is greener is a romantic notion: I could have a better life if I did X. This can inspire change. The grass is greener is really all about hopes and dreams. I mean, if we were that wise and could see the results of all of our risks before we take them—positive or negative—would we even think about shaking up the routine? Would we even bother examining our lives, would we even bother looking in the mirror and trying to change ourselves? Would we need mirrors at all?
Where’s the adventure in that?
I, for one, think all those shards look pretty in the sun.
If you’d like to read “The Party Over There” by Jennifer Rachel Baumer, you can find it in Ghost Writing: Haunted Tales by Contemporary Writers, edited by Richard Weingarten. Any lover of horror stories should have this anthology on his shelf: I’ve read many, many collections, and this one is by far the best because the stories in it totally break the mold. If you enjoy what I write, you’ll enjoy this collection. You can purchase it here.
GETTING TO THE CORE OF IT
There’s an abandoned geology lab in Truro, so we geared up and headed out. Despite the fact that Pete said it wasn’t the place he was thinking of—there was an even cooler place just down the road—the lab was not only a beautiful example of art in decay, it was crammed with dated core samples and littered with items that didn’t seem like they’d belong in a geology lab. I love stuff like that, so I think it made a pretty fine “big ticket item.”
So I’ll give you the big news first: WE THINK WE CAUGHT TWO EVPs. I stress the word think–they’re still being looked at. An unexplained whispering in the “Pill Bottles” video, and an unexplained moan in the “Pete with Butt” video. I wish my camera had better audio, but there’s something definitely there. I have sent both videos off to qualified people with forensic experience in sound and better equipment. We’ll see what happens.
In the alleged EVP in “Pill Bottles”, I think the key will be if we can actually understand what the hell it says without totally front-loading. What we do know is that it’s not the wind (it was a still day and there was no wind in the building), it’s definitely broken into specific words, it wasn’t me (holding the camera and I’m rather loud) and it’s not Pete — his voice, although soft, is clearly masculine; this whisper has that spooky androgynous quality I’ve heard on far too many of Nathan’s EVPs.
As far as the “moan” in “Pete with Butts,” I can’t deny it could’ve been natural causes, although I think I would’ve heard something with my own ears if it were that loud — we were both very aware of sounds around us for safety reasons and pretty much stopped to listen if we heard something odd. But I must admit, those woods are full of coyotes, and people do walk their dogs there. If we can clean it up enough to hear it better, we may be able to identify it as an animal.
There’s very little about this location that pops up in any online research; however, I’m certain the NPS on the sign is an acronym for National Park Service, which manages, of course, the Cape Cod National Seashore. What I did find online was a very interesting Geologic Resource Evaluation Scoping Summary prepared by John Graham of the Geologic Resources Division of the National Park Service (US Department of Interior) and published on July 15, 2008. This fourteen-page PDF may give us some clues about the work they were doing in the building.
First, the document details exactly what they do know about the area’s geologic make up, and discusses extensive mapping procedures, especially of the area they call “North Truro”, which is where this lab is located. I have a feeling that this lab may have been partly responsible for some of the information contained in the report and many of the maps, possibly, that he refers to which have now been “digitized.”
Second, the building is littered with core samples. In the report, Graham talks a great deal about “stratigraphy” — a branch of geology that studies rocks and their layering. As far as I can remember, one of the practices used in any of the types of stratigraphy (I won’t go into it here, you can look it up or just read the PDF) is coring.
Third, there were several signs in the building that must have been put out in areas where terns were nesting, and this would tie in with the core sampling, maybe, because terns are particularly susceptible to disturbances in their nesting areas. These signs might have been used to tell people where they weren’t allowed to core.
Fourth, Pete did find a few rolls of unused paper that would have been used in a seismograph. In Graham’s report he specifically points out that seismic activity in Cape Cod is monitored, due to an earthquake in the 1700s. According to him, if such an event were to happen today, Boston would be in a lot of trouble.
Of course, what we don’t know is why this place was shut down. Perhaps someday we can get to the core of it. Someone’s got an answer somewhere. But until then what we do have is speculation, and Pete’s romantic spin on things. He quickly pointed out that the abandoned biology lab we’d visited back on January 23 was full of the evidence of partying: tons of beer bottles, graffiti, two-thirds-full packs of cigarettes. All we found at the geology lab was one beer cap from a Newcastle, but Pete was pretty sure he knew who it belonged to, because he had a friend who’d come up there once by himself and had one beer but then left. “We found one beer cap,” he said. “Not a six pack, not a pack of cigarettes, no graffiti, nothing recent, nothing. Now, it’s the furthest point out, and it’s also the highest point, and who the hell wants to be hammered walking back from that shit? But, you know. Do you get what I’m saying?”
Yeah, I get what you’re saying, Pete.
These are all totally wild guesses on my part and I could be completely wrong, but it’s fun to think about. If you’d like to read John Graham’s report, it’s available here as a PDF hosted on this blog: CACO_scoping_summary_20081223. For purposes of citing the original source, which is the appropriate thing to do, here’s the link where it can be found online: http://www.nature.nps.gov/GEOLOGY/inventory/publications/s_summaries/CACO_scoping_summary_20081223.pdf. If you want a good ghost story or two, head on over to the “Read My Work” tab and check out “Screams of Autumn” or “Wailing Station.”
Photos and videos below; my little camera doesn’t do well with audio, so I put transcripts of what was said in the videos below each one. Keep in mind, also, that when we finally get around to analyzing those EVPs, we may not be able to decipher what it says due to the audio’s low quality. But for now you can try to listen to the whisper and the odd sound and make your own call.
About Walking on Insulation (Video)
This was a room at the back of the building which wasn’t locked, but the door to get in was badly warped. Pete managed to shoulder it open, though, and the ceilings are rapidly approaching non-existent–most of the material has fallen to the floor and is so decayed and wet you can’t even tell what it is (it also felt grossly squishy, like walking on sponges). The room featured several collapsing racks of geologic core samples that had been left behind. Most of the samples are dated, but don’t have any information as to the location from which they were taken.
Walking on Insulation Video Transcript
P: There’s racks and racks of core samples back here.
K: My God. I don’t even want to know what all this shit is we’re walking on right now.
P: It’s just old, smushed insulation.
Working Crank (Video)
Working Crank Video Transcript
P: Look at that, it still works.
P: That [wheel] makes it go…the crank makes it go up and down.
K: It still works?
P: Yeah, yeah. (Eerie sounds) Reminds me of that old game Myst.
About Pill Bottles (Video)
Of course, these weren’t really bottles of pills. They were probably sand samples; we couldn’t get into the mess to really pick any up and identify them. This was also the room–you’ll see it in the video–where there are signs warning about disturbing nesting terns. In addition, listen closely–with good headsets, or try to load it through your i-Tunes, it helps–to the moment before I say, “wanna go hit the warehouse?” This is the first of the alleged EVPs we picked up.
Pill Bottles Video Transcript
K: Just, the deterioration on that roof is like–
P: Did you ever see so many pill bottles in your life?
P: Those look like sand samples, maybe, or I dunno, that’s what it looks like.
[Unexplained whispering JUST before K says ‘wanna go hit the warehouse’; neither of us spoke, this could be an EVP, I’ll have to check it out. We will keep you posted either way in a future blog post.]
K: Wanna go hit the warehouse?
P: Get what you can from here [referring to photos]
About Pete with Butt (Video)
Honestly, I just shot this because he was holding paperwork and reading it with a cigarette hanging out of his mouth and for some reason this cracked me up. But the paperwork he found was pretty interesting, so I’m sharing this here. He’s been to this location before and noted that there was much more paperwork in the drawers of the desk, but since the last time he visited, the drawers have completely rusted to the point where they can no longer be opened.
Also note that this is the video that contains the second alleged EVP that sounds like a moan. It’s noted in the transcript.
And no, we didn’t leave any cigarette butts behind. We’re explorers, not litterers.
Pete with Butt Video Transcript
P: It’s a contract work schedule.
K: Really? (Thumping of boots on broken door; to self): Gotta make sure this holds (unexplained moan or sound in background immediately ensues. This is the second thing that may be an EVP we have to check into. We’ll keep you posted whether we think it’s legit or not).
P: Contract work to commence immediately on June 1, 1976.
K: Oh my God, it’s like the old typing.
About Attic Ladder (Video)
This was the total jackpot of this place, I thought, because of the awful memories it evoked for me. This video was when we first discovered the stairs, and we’re talking about it; this is just before Pete convinced me it was safe enough for me to climb up there (he did it himself, first). The roll of paper you see him checking out on the desk is the one that I suspect would have been used in a seismograph that I mentioned earlier in this post.
No transcript for Attic Ladder Video — it’s me and I’m loud.
THE LAST PEOPLE ON EARTH
Riches in the Ruins
In writing, as with any kind of intense pursuit, it’s important to have a balance while you’re doing it. I came up here to the Colony with a lot of work to do, and I’ve certainly achieved that. I even managed to get out to a few things—an art gallery opening, a wonderful dinner party at the Mailer house, a poetry reading. Last weekend, however, after working intensely for three or four days and only attending these events in the evenings, I realized I was feeling a little caged in. I wasn’t getting out enough.
Enter my next-door neighbor, Peter, and his friend Duff. They live here year-round and I definitely hold them among the coolest people I’ve ever met. During the first week I was here, I’d discussed with them my passion for abandoned places and urban exploring (something I do, in reality, very little of—I mostly just look at other explorer’s photos). And they had a surprise for me: some abandoned jewels just down the road apiece. Would I like to go? Hell, yeah!
So this past Sunday, although it was a bit nippy, it was sunny and a beautiful day to be out—in many ways, there’s no better weather in which to visit an abandoned place. All that beauty (especially by the sea) is so incongruous with the empty places, the rotting places, the places where, if you listen closely enough, you can hear the echoes of the lives that happened in them. I came home inspired; a new short story is cooking in my brain as we speak. In an odd way, all that incongruity—and being away from my keyboard for a full day—restored my balance.
Here are photos and videos of our day–we visited a base, most of which is now nature preserve and open to the public; some of it is still in use by local organizations, but the base ceased operations in 1985. The other building was a biology lab, and I’m not sure when that closed–although its closing pre-dated the late 1990s judging from graffiti on the walls.
Apparently, there are a couple more places, but we ran out of daylight. Here’s to hoping I get an opportunity to go see the rest before I leave!
Organized tour? NOT.
Walking Tour #1: A bit of background.
“[There’s just] all kinds of stuff out here…”
Next few pix: Seriously? This place is reminiscent of the set of The Last Man on Earth (1964) starring Vincent Price, precursor to The Omega Man (Charlton Heston, 1971) and I Am Legend (Will Smith, 2007). [If you’ve never seen The Last Man on Earth, or don’t even have any clue what the hell I’m talking about, you owe it to yourself to rent it now.]
These are all single family homes.
There are four streets of them…
Peter on the Roof.
Home sweet home! Those trees’d be a pain in the ass if your dinner party guests had to get through them to find your front door. Yup, that’s me. Martini, anyone? May I bring your slippers?
Broken merry-go-round on the playground.
Many years ago, parents sat on this bench and watched their kids:
Here’s a shelter where people, most likely, waited for transportation:
We were pretty fascinated with this cover, which we could have probably pried open if we’d had a crowbar. Check out the design, the year, and the strange symbols. Drunken mischief? Or does somebody have, like, food and stuff socked away down there (I didn’t put the photo here, but beneath this cement platform there are what appear to be air vents).
Fallen electrical equipment. The storms out here do get pretty wild.
I’m not sure what caused this hole. It was in one of the front windows of a home–a window that would have most likely looked into the family room. Where a Christmas Tree probably would have been.
Interior. What’s with all the weird art?
Dormant dining room.
These trees reminded me of scenes in Sleepy Hollow.
Walking toward the sea.
The Abandoned Beach Cliff Adventure. This is truly great!
Nathan shot this while we were chatting.
An abandoned cistern. This view struck me as reminiscent of the pool area from which the piranha escaped in Piranha (1978).
I was fascinated by this creepy picnic area.
THE ABANDONED LAB
Obviously, someone was here before us…whoever it was drank his beer, but left a near-full pack of Marlboros.
From this point forward, we’re going counter-clockwise through the place. This was a loading door of some kind — the opening was large enough to fit a small vehicle through.
This is the area to the left of the door.
Notice this spiral painted on the wall–it looks like the same spiral painted on the man-hole cover I pointed out earlier. Weird.
Ceiling damage in one of the back rooms.
I’m always fascinated by fuse boxes that no longer work. This one I particularly liked because I swear it’s the same model I had in my house growing up. Or maybe they’re all the same anyway? I don’t know.
Could you imagine working in this dark hole? I think it would depress me.