Be Our Guest: Honoring the Abandoned Places

In Guest, Inspiration, Urban Exploration

I’m so pleased to introduce David Whitemyer as our final guest in our Be Our Guest series. I’ve followed David for a number of years on Instagram– I share his love of old, abandoned places. In his photos you can see echoes of these abandoned buildings in their heyday, before time and nature took over.

David is an amateur, self-taught photographer who has been exploring modern ruins since his adolescence in the early 1980s. He grew up in the Chicago suburbs and currently lives in southeastern Massachusetts with his wife and sons.

In addition to his photographs, David’s passion for history and architecture is demonstrated through his twenty-five years of work in the museum and exhibition planning profession, as a designer, architect, project manager, writer, and adjunct university faculty member.

David is the author of the recently published book, Abandoned Massachusetts: Lost Treasures of the Bay State, which is available on Amazon or through his website.

His photographs can be seen at his website dwhitemyer.com and on his Instagram feed @mahikerbiker.


Author Lewis Carroll begins Alice in Wonderland emphasizing innate childhood curiosity when seven-year-old Alice chases a talking white rabbit into an unknown hole. “In another moment down went Alice after it,” Carroll writes, “never once considering how in the world she was to get out again.” Landing in a peculiar hallway, Alice tries to open an array of locked doors, finally succeeding with one.

Like Alice, I was pulled towards mysterious passageways as a young child. Growing up in the suburbs of Chicago, I sought out empty buildings and unbeaten paths. On holiday camping trips out West, I’d plead to stop at roadside ghost towns and rusting service stations, and my father would oblige. He gave me a camera and some basic shooting tips, and he encouraged my interest with permission and patience when I wanted to open strange doors and sneak out of view. This urge continued through college where, in Iowa, I would head out on rural roads for hours, seeking dilapidated barns and farmhouses.

I don’t know if this insatiable curiosity and pull towards old buildings is inherent or if there was a spark at some point, whether it was nature or nurture. But I can recall, with great detail, one of my first abandoned explorations.

Deep in the woods – at least in memory – within walking distance from my home and elementary school, stood a shuttered, stately, brick mansion and the collapsing remnants of a swimming pool, gazebo, and loggia. My neighborhood friends and I stumbled upon the structures one summer day while exploring, building forts, and having mud fights. The patio doors had a shattered pane through which a small ten-year-old arm could reach and open the latch, but with none of us brave enough to enter, we brought our discovery to the attention of one of our fathers.

With childlike curiosity, my friend’s father hatched a plan where we’d all meet up later that evening and investigate our finding together. Whether he already knew of the mansion or not, I didn’t know – and still don’t – but his excitement captivated us all. A few hours before dusk we entered the abandoned house, strolling past peeling wallpaper and ornate, dust covered woodwork, and through rooms of a grandiose scale I’d never seen before. Spiderwebs filled each corner, and the floors creaked as we inched our way up the curved stairway. My main regret is that I didn’t bring a camera.

As an adult, and with a passion for history and architecture, I continue to search for and find abandoned structures through which I can explore, and like Alice, never considering how in the world I’ll get out again.

With centuries of history, our country is littered with the remains of factories, hospitals, theaters, churches, and military sites. Industries have thrived and crashed. Communities have grown and struggled. Politics and culture have changed. And from this ebb and flow are the leftovers of buildings that no longer have a use, or that are too costly to maintain. Within them, I often sense a palpable energy, imagining them bustling with people, stories, heartbreak, and joy. They were once vibrant centers of activity and people’s lives, and then one day, it was over. Perhaps the message is that nothing is permanent, but that there is beauty in change.

Through my photos, I share spaces once hurried with activity, now hidden and inaccessible to most. I hope that others envisioned them filled with patients and parishioners, audiences and employees, and to also appreciate how time and solitude have given these spaces a grace and allure.


We hope you’ve enjoyed our Be Our Guest series. We will continue to feature an occasional guest, but this will be the last monthly guest feature, for now. We’ve featured so many talented photographers, each with their own unique style and vision, and we’re grateful to them for agreeing to share their work with us. Thank you, guests!

–lucy

2 Comments

  1. Really wonderful work…I’m definitely wondering about the people who once filled those spaces.
    Thanks for being a guest here, David!

  2. These are just fantastic!
    All the stories behind these images. I can’t even begin to imagine.
    Thank you so much for sharing your work here, David.

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