One of the best sounds school-aged kids hear is when the last bell in the last class rings signaling the school is out for summer. In the words of Alice Cooper, “Out for summer. Out til’ fall. We might not get back at all.”
Today I would like to visit one such school. Where school was let out for summer and never returned. The once busy school halls and classrooms are deserted and desolate. At one time these halls were filled with laughter, the playground filled with joy, and the gymnasium roared with cheers.
School closures are something we are all too familiar with in the United States. Mostly impacting older buildings, urban areas, and low-income regions. For example, the capital of the rust belt; Detroit, with its rising crime, diminished population, reduced manufacturing jobs, and decay is an ideal environment for school closures. Over the past decade, more than 30 schools have permanently closed their doors in Detroit alone.
Other cities such as Chicago, Philadelphia, and New York have shut hundreds of public schools. But, this is not isolated to a few areas, every place in the country sees schools merge, consolidate, or close entirely. Regardless of the city size, make-up, or region the decision to close a school is never taken lightly. The school systems are trying to work through an ever-shrinking pool of funding and lack of political support. Causing a cycle of closures and community mistrust that further deepens the political gap.
There are many factors that contribute to school closures and to be clear schools are not closed without a suitable replacement being available. One of the most common reasons a school closes is due to maintenance costs. For example, schools took on millions of dollars of renovation costs, when we were ensuring no asbestos or led-based paint was used in new or existing construction. In some instances, it was more cost-effective to close the school and build a brand new and more efficient building. In that instance, the structure simply outlived its usefulness and had become a health concern. Sometimes they close because the demand for education far exceeds what the current structure can accommodate. In the case of private schools, it is nearly always a funding issue. Other times schools close due to shrinking enrollment and dwindling population. In this instance, the remaining school-aged children are bused to a large regional school. Which is the case of the school we are having a look at today.
However, an American school is much more than a slab of brick-and-mortar that kids attend during the day to learn; for most families, they act as community centers and gathering places. When a school is closed; especially in a small town, people often feel a sense of upheaval and grief. Not to mention a feeling of uncertainty that arises towards their local governments' commitment to equitable education. In 2014 four independent education organizations in New Jersey, Illinois, and Louisiana filed a complaint. In which they asked the US Justice Department and Department of Education to investigate discriminatory practices through the school closings. The resulting investigation concluded that it was a matter of low tax income and overall school funding. Meaning; low-income areas were impacted the most by the school closures; due to lack of funding, not the ethnicity of the local population. Regardless, of the investigation's findings and whether it was intentional; it leaves our minority community without the education centers and gathering places that are afforded to more affluent communities. The fraught debate continues, but at the end of the day, many of the pain points that communities are going through would be solved by increasing public school funding.
Setting the economic struggles of the school system aside: Artists, poets, and filmmakers have long realized the emotive power of this struggle and its abandoned institutions. The closures are set against the backdrop of numerous shuttered schools and derelict playgrounds. Ushering in a new era of urban explorers and documentarians. Carrying a tradition that dates back to the 18th-century, when French painter; Hubert Des Ruin painted derelict structures. Later in the 20th-century, conceptualist painters recognized that abandoned buildings can show us complex social issues. A little later the husband and wife team Hilla and Bernd Becher became well known for their depiction of abandoned industrial era facilities across Europe and North America.
Another example of this includes a 1974 project by Gordon Matta-Clark that famously photographed an ordinary structure in the suburbs of New Jersey that was awaiting demolition. Later Nicolai Ouroussoff; a New York Times architecture critic, said about the photos, they gave him a “growing sense that the American dream was evaporating”. A few months later, the home was demolished. Now a growing group of contemporary artists is expanding on the concept that abandoned schools can be more evocative than a derelict factory or homes that are slated for demolition. An abandoned school and its remnants are more personal, poignant, and relatable. They represent a collective childhood experience as much as they represent a deeply private experience.
Typically, there are two approaches in this field of art. For one, there are artists who document the sorrow and frustration felt by the students, teachers, and community (commonly referred to as urban explorers or Urbex). Next there are the artists who practice a form of art called “social practice”. They tackle policy issues and ask direct questions related to the waste of abandoned structures. While urging residents to reimagine abandoned schools and openly engage with city leaders.
Regardless of the approach, there are many possibilities for abandoned art as a catalyst for social change. A drastic example of this is a demonstration staged by Ai WeiWei, arguably the world’s most famous activist. He used over 9,000 backpacks to spell out the sentence “She lived happily in this world for seven years” on the side of a Munich museum, criticizing the Chinese government after thousands of students died when their shoddy classrooms collapsed during a 2008 earthquake. Piles of dead children's backpacks were found at the sites of the demolished schools. Today Ai’s exposure of China's shoddy construction practices is credited for the policy changes that the Chinese government eventually made. This new commitment to a safe schoolhouse left many Chinese areas with abandoned schools. While the changes we see in the US are much less drastic; the heart of the matter and goal is the same, to ensure a safe and productive school environment.
Back in the states, we have much more stable school buildings; however, distance is becoming a problem. For example; in Chicago, evidence shows that closures have forced children to cross through gang territory to get to their newly relocated schools. In 2013 the Chicago Teachers Union president; Karen Lewis questioned whether the additional security costs outweighed the estimated $1 billion the district saved in closing 49 schools. A cost that is significant when you consider private security forces, as well as the Chicago Police department, now protect the children's commute to school. Again, this problem boils down to a lack of funding to the school system, but in this case, it comes with an increased security burden. A burden that added costs to the school system in a manner that does not provide educational resources or support, just basic safety.
A few years ago, a Baltimore based advocacy group called the Teachers’ Democracy Project posed a simple question about school closures: “Why would we close any small, safe, and relatively successful school, particularly if it is located in a low-income, Black neighborhood and serves as a vital anchor-institutions?”. The hard truth is the closures have to do with fiscal circumstances and lack of public support. Politicians, educators, and reformers all have competing views and approaches to “solving” the problem. There is no direct evidence that closing makes it difficult for educators, but there's a plethora of evidence related to the impact on our children. For example; students living in low-income regions are five times more likely to drop out than those from wealthy and middle-class areas. And identifying at-risk students is best done with small class sizes and an ongoing relationship with the teachers and students. Both of these things are prevented from happening when we close a school and overcrowd another school (to take on the new student base). Because the closings are more often in economically struggling communities, the students could; over a period of time, perpetuate the high dropout and imprisonment rates that plague their communities.
There is a simple solution to all of this. One that we have turned a blind eye to for too long. We must fund our schools more and fill them with motivated and well-compensated educators. For the richest country in the world to act like we can’t manage this simple task is laughable. The pentagon alone spends $746 billion a year. That’s over $62 billion a month and over $2-million a day. If we were to shave one-tenth of this funding and give it to education we would have 746 million dollars. This is enough money to fund every public school, stock them with new supplies, and adequately compensate our educators. We could even fund our community colleges in a manner that makes them free and public institutions. While the pentagon's funding is a drastic example, it demonstrates that it is a lack of prioritizing our education and children. It’s not that we do not have the funds and resources to improve our schools. It’s a lack of desire and political support. The lack of appreciation for public education will only leave us with a wider economic gap, overcrowded schools, and a poorly educated population. Sadly, the saying “you get what you pay for” applies all too well to this situation.
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The former townsite of Apex Colorado is nestled into a shadowy, narrow, and windswept valley. Only a few of the city's buildings remain today and few people come to visit. It’s best viewed after the winter snow melts off the roads and Pine Creek is flowing behind the former main street. April or May is an ideal time to avoid snow and for viewing wildflowers and wildlife.
During my visit I spoke to an elderly gentleman who claimed to be the last resident of Apex; however, he also gave me instructions for the best places and methods for BigFoot viewing. He is the self-proclaimed mayor and sees himself as the watchmen of the land. Considering the source, he did have some interesting facts about modern-day Apex that were not cryptozoology related and was able to show me some of the gems in this hidden valley. Today I would like to share with you some of what he showed us during our journey while expanding upon the history of Gilpin County Colorado and Apex.
When making your way up Apex Valley road and entering the townsite you will see very few buildings but will notice the tree line has been pushed further away from the road. Giving way to lush meadows and a view of Pine Creek. While it may not seem like it, you have entered the former city. With the exception of several buildings, the Meadows are all that marks the land where Apex Colorado stood. Today it can be hard to imagine over 1,000 settlers living in this valley. The valley is not very hospitable with the aid of modern technology, let alone over a century ago.
One of the most noticeable buildings is a swaying false-fronted building. This building boasts a large brass medallion that lists it as the first site (Site #001) in the Gilpin County Historical Society Register. The Juxtaposition of the new and heavy brass affixed to an old and fragile building is striking. The marker indicates a desire by this organization to preserve the structure. And this is made evident by the temporary buttresses that have been added to brace the building from falling. Many people would look at this structure and assume that it cannot be saved. However; I have seen larger and worse off structures that have been brought back from this condition. You can see an example of a similar building being brought back from the brink in my Ohio City video and vlog. That said; this particular structure in Apex Colorado served as a hotel and boarding house during the city's boom period, the 1890’s.
The area was first prospected by, Richard Mackey in the 1870s when he stumbled on an outcropping of gold. Shortly after his claim was sold, and resold until a man named “Mountz” purchased the claim as a partner. In need of money, Mackey sought a partner and found it in Mountz. After clearing out the easiest to reach gold and making $30,000, Mackey vanished. Shortly thereafter Mountz ran out of money again and began to live in squalor. Weary and upset, he planted his last two sticks of dynamite at the mine opening with the intention of closing it off. The next morning as he ate his last bit of food and prepared to leave, he noticed the shattered pile of debris from his explosion was all gold ore and behind the ore-pile was an exposed vein of Gold. Mountz once again stumbled onto Gold, but this time he found an extremely rich vein of Gold. This claim became known as the “Pine Mining District''. This load was the largest acquisition in the area and produced ore at a value of $1,800 a ton. Which in today's value would equate to $110,500 a ton. Mackey’s find continued to produce ore and it justified the creation of a mill in the town, this was a rarity for a community of this size.
The Colorado Bureau of Mines; in a 1919 report, describes the community of the Apex mines:
“The Pine Mining District, six miles north of Central City, is where the Evergreen Mines Company properties are located. During the fall and winter of 1917 and 1918, they erected a 100-ton flotation mill, which is equipped with electric power. This company gives employment to a great number of men year-round. The Pennsylvania and Colorado Mining Tunnel and Milling Company's mines and mills are located in this district and several other smaller properties.”
With such valuable ore, the mining camp quickly blossomed into a city and was established as a town in 1891. It’s worth noting that this was 30-years after the nearby communities of Central City and Nevadaville were established. This means that many prospectors combed through these mountains during the Gregory Gulch Goldrush and were not able to find gold. But thanks to the patience of Mountz, Apex continued to grow until the early 1900s.
A small cluster of cabins and sandy streets is all that remains of a once-bustling metropolis that served as the Capital of the Pine Creek Mining District. A newspaper from the nearby town of Idaho Springs reported throughout the boom years and produced several photos of the town's construction. At its peak, it featured over 80 businesses downtown and housed over 1,000 residents in the surrounding community. Although the railway never made it to town, several stagecoach lines ran from Nevadaville and Black Hawk. The stage line brought with them a daily stream of mail; which was a luxury for most mining communities. They had several saloons, a dance hall, grocery store, hotels, a schoolhouse, and eventually, its own post office. It operated intermittently from 1894 to 1932.
The districts’ mining companies were well represented on the main street, with multiple offices dotting the street. By 1897 the town achieved its next milestone by producing its own weekly newspaper, called “The Apex Pine Cone”. The first volume was printed on July 3rd, with the intention of the first run being ready to read on Independence Day (July 4th).
Like many of the communities in this mining district, it did not have a cemetery of its own. Rather they choose to inter their residents in the nearby Central City Cemetery. Which created a massive set of cemetery plots in the nearby town of Central City. Despite being a substantial mining town, the lack of a cemetery makes it difficult to discover details of the town and its citizens. Unfortunately, some of the most interesting details of this wealthy mining town are lost to history.
It took its architectural secrets and history to the grave when Apex lost large swaths of buildings over the course of two separate wildfires. Much of the business district was destroyed and we are left with only the open meadows we see today. The residential areas of town have been reclaimed by the woods and are mostly collapsed. Except for a handful of cabins, illegal mining operations, and homes.
Apex is mostly abandoned, with the exception of the aforementioned “Mayor” and his “visiting kin”. I had the pleasure of speaking with the Mayor and although it was hard to get a word-in with him, I was able to get his permission to record our conversation. This was of course only if I agreed to hear him out about his tall tales of espionage, Nicola Tesla’s ongoing work in Colorado, radio waves in his teeth, and his uniquely insane worldviews. As you might be guessing, this man is as crazy as they come but is generally harmless and well-intentioned. He is extremely verbose and can be found on the top of Elk Park road in a set of trailers that are surrounded by snowmobiles and ATVs. Do not seek him out, but if you are lucky enough to meet him and decide to engage with him in conversation, be prepared to spend 20-30 minutes chatting.
While the Mayor is about as friendly of a schizophrenic as you’ll find, his dog, “Dummass”, is not. This white Pyrenees dog guards the mayor and his property with extreme prejudice. He feels like it is his job to direct traffic and he personally owns the road. Don’t be surprised if Dummass attempts to herd you or your vehicle away from the Mayor's property.
Photo from the Day:
Few places on earth have the same sense of adventure and discovery as the Rocky Mountains. With the exception of the Alps, Andes, Himalayas, and of course Antarctica. In this article, I would like to momentarily divert my attention from the Rocky Mountains to the vast frozen continent of Antarctica.
People have been desperate to understand and explore Antarctica since its tentative discovery by Captain Cook in the 1770s. Eventually, his sighting was confirmed by Fabian Gottlieb von Bellingshausen in January of 1820, when he saw the Antarctic ice shelf. By 1840 the Wilks expedition established that Antarctica was indeed a continent. Nations fell upon themselves to begin to understand, explore, and lay claim to this harsh and frozen wasteland.
Early explorers used the methods of Native Americans to explore the Antarctic Ice shelf. Specifically, they borrow techniques from the Inuit People of Alaska; such as sled dogs and thermal-insulated clothing. However, food was scarce and these methods would not sustain the explorers very long. In order to explore deep into Antarctica innovation and invention were required.
Each successive expedition and encampment brought with them experimental equipment and techniques. All designed to better explore and conquer the unforgiving and otherworldly environment of Antarctica. Innovation would not prove easy; specifically, early vehicles and motorized equipment had a very hard time in these conditions.
Automobiles were still in their infancy during early explorations and to this day equipment must be specially designed to withstand and operate in constant sub-zero temperatures. Each attempt to introduce vehicles to the difficult landscape and temperatures suffered faults, fails, and numerous setbacks.
British explorer Ernest Shackleton in the Nimrod expedition managed to bring the first automobile to the continent in 1909. The expedition boasted a specially designed vehicle that was donated by the defunct British automaker, William Beardmore and Company. The vehicle replaced the front tires with skis and the rear tires with large cogs. It was ultimately unsuccessful in navigating the deep snow and ice. For that matter, it could not be started at sub-zero temperatures or run for an extended period of time in the cold. Like most things in Antarctica it was repurposed and was reused as a wagon. For the remainder of this expedition, they relied on traditional sleds.
One year later; in 1910, a British Naval officer named Robert Falcon Scott saw potential in Ernest Shackleton’s idea and further innovated upon this concept during the ill-fated Terra Nova expedition. He and his engineer Reginald Skelton pioneered and advanced the concept of motor-driven sleds during their race to the south pole. But they later abandoned the idea for a caterpillar track to make it across snowy surfaces. This innovation edged us closer to something resembling the workings of a modern snowmobile.
By 1911 Australian explorer Douglas Mawson set his sights on Antarctica. During his visit to the continent, he intended to bring the first airplane. Unfortunately, the plane crashed during an airshow demonstration before Mawson ever left for the expedition. Making the best of a bad situation and ever-the-showman, Mawson had the plane hastily reconstructed into what he called an experimental “air-tractor”. This was basically a tractor on skis, made out of the old Vickers airplane. This was also unsuccessful. The engine was removed and sent back to Vickers, in England. The rest of the plane was abandoned and claimed by the arctic snowdrifts. Similar to the motorcars, sleds, and vehicles that came before it. But these failures are not uncommon and it is only through failure that science can learn what does or does not work. As they say, “the road to success is paved in failure.” or “Fail fast and learn slowly.”
Flash forward 20-years to the 1930s Antarctica was to be home to one of the most incredible and ambitious vehicles ever built. The Arctic Snow Cruiser was impressive not just in its incredible size and innovative features but was also notable as an automotive masterpiece.
But before the Arctic Snow Cruiser could make its way to Antarctica the groundwork was laid by Rear Admiral Richard Evelyn Byrd Jr. from the United States Navy. Byrd is most well known for his successful flights over both the North and South Poles. Although his claim to the North Pole flight was later disputed by the Smithsonian Institute. None-the-less he was an accomplished arctic explorer who was a part of the crew who completed the first transatlantic flight in 1919. Eventually, Richard Byrd was the recipient of the Medal of Honor, which is the highest honor of valor given by the United States.
Through the 1920s Byrd had been organizing American expeditions into Antarctica. He had established two bases on the continent; “Little America” (in 1929) and “Little America II” (in 1934).
By the end of the 1930s war was threatening to engulf the world as World War II was ramping up. Germany as well as the Japanese empire were increasing their activities and territorial ambitions around the continent of Antarctica. Because of this president, Roosevelt sought to make the US presence in Antarctica permanently established.
Roosevelt’s increased interest in the continent drastically improved Richard Byrd's third expedition to the antarctic. It grew out of it’s small and privately funded roots into a well-funded mission. One that looked to maintain United States bases on both sides of Antarctica. It was organized jointly by the US Department of State, The US Navy, The Department of the Interior, And the US Department of War. The base was named “Little America III” and demonstrated the United State’s interest and dedication to the arctic. A spirit that continues to this day.
This was the largest expedition the world had seen so far and nations waited with anticipation to discover the final scale of this grand expedition. However, few could guess what innovation was about to roll onto the stage. This is because Byrd and his team drew from the past experiences and failures of the equipment used and sought to design a vehicle that could incorporate the best elements of its predecessors. He had considerable success with caterpillar tracked vehicles in his previous expeditions. In fact, he credited their use directly for saving his life when he had been stranded alone in a remote outpost, during his second expedition.
Byrds deputy, Dr. Thomas Poulter has spent the years since researching ways to adapt the motorized tractors they used to be better suited for sustained use at sub-zero temperatures. Working with the Armor Institute of Technology; in Chicago, now the Illinois Institute of Technology, Poulter designed what he called “The Snow Cruiser”. His design was a 55 feet (16.7 m) long, 25 feet (7.6 m) wide, 37-ton giant. It was designed to have a range of over 8,000 miles (12,874 km) and could sustain a crew for up to a year on the ice without resupplying. The monstrous machine was powered by two specially designed diesel-electric engines and was designed for a maximum speed of 55 miles per hour.
The Snow Cruiser was crammed with clever innovations; such as its four 10-foot tall balloon-like Goodyear tires. The tires and wheel assembly could be moved individually and lifted clear of crevices and other obstructions. Additionally, they could completely retract them into the chassis of the cruiser. Add to that, the tires had an innovative system that was designed to keep the rubber of the tires warm, by reusing the heat and exhaust from the engine bay.
Inside the Snow Cruiser featured all of the facilities a crew of four could need for exploring and living in the Antarctic landscape. It was complete with a control room, a machine shop, a galley, a dark room, extra tanks for fuel, food storage, crew quarters, and it even had space for two gigantic spare tires. The range of gadgets and capability were nearly endless.
The top of the Snow Cruiser sported a cradle for an aircraft. The plane boasted a range of about 300 miles (482 km) and acted as a scout for the cruiser. The aircraft could be loaded and unloaded through the sloped back of the cruiser.
This was without a doubt the most ambitious vehicle of its time. But before it could be built it was up to Thomas Poulter to justify how this vehicle would revolutionize arctic exploration. Eventually, the US gave the Snow Cruiser project the green light and handed over $150,000 a value of $2.3-Million at that time.
The Snow Cruiser was seen by the US congress as the crown jewel of an arsenal of new tools they looked to deploy in what was now the United States' fourth expedition to Antarctica. Especially because other countries' interests and competing claims to the region began to pick-up. While the cruiser was being built Germany had deployed a large catapult ship to the region and begun to operate survey planes around Antarctica. “Claiming” large tracks of land in the name of Nazi-Germany.
In an effort to further impress upon Congress and justify the large expedition budget Poulter began to boast about how the craft was designed to cover 500,000 square miles during an Antarctic summer. A claim that was a bit sketchy, but plausible nonetheless. With the international competition now worrying lawmakers, the Antarctic Snow Cruisers construction was expedited.
It created a national sensation as it raced off the factory-floor and across 1,000s of miles or roadways. Making its way from Chicago Illinois to Boston Massachusetts. At the time the Cruiser was wider than most of the nation's roads. To navigate around this, they executed a carefully orchestrated plan which involved closing highways and clearing traffic from the roadways ahead of the Snow Cruiser. It was a parade-like atmosphere, a sensation that was driven home by the motorcade of police that both preceded and followed the massive automobile. At one point the cruiser attempted to navigate over a creek and did get stuck for a time. While this was not a very encouraging moment, the engineers used this as an opportunity to test the independent suspension in a warmer climate.
None-the-less it made it back onto the roadway and to the Boston docks on time, where it was loaded onto the supply ship, “The North Star”. Along with Food, spare tires, several tanks, prefabricated huts, and everything they would need to live for over a year in Antarctica. In order to fit the vehicle, the entire rear-wheel section was removed and stored elsewhere. Once this was completed it was secured to the deck of the North Star. The captain had concerns about the weight being distributed properly, but after Byrd's insistence, they permitted the cargo aboard. With much fanfare the North Star and Arctic Snow Cruiser inches into the Pacific Ocean. After a few nervous moments, the captain gave his approval and set sail in November of 1939.
As it made its way, the New York Times surmised that: “The Snow Cruiser has connected West Base with East Base; or has rolled along that coast which no man has surely seen… or, perhaps, made itself a laboratory-based, for a period of months, at the Pole itself”. Only a few of their hopeful claims would come to pass. While it may have been a bit presumptuous of the New York Times, it goes to show just how enthusiastic Americans were about the Snow Cruiser.
The expedition reached the site of little America III in January of 1940. As the Arctic Snow Cruiser made its way off the North Star and on to a simple wooden ramp. The ramp began to give away. Leading to a tense moment when Byrd was nearly thrown from the roof of the cruiser. Fortunately, Byrd was able to run to a handhold and secure himself. Meanwhile, Poulter, who was at the wheel hit the accelerator, leaping the cruiser forward and on to the relative safety of the ice.
Once on the ice, they found that the vehicle was much slower than anticipated. To correct this issue, they outfitted the Snow cruiser with two spare tires for additional traction. But this design change gave way to a new problem, it was now very bouncy. In fact, it earned itself the nickname, “bouncing Betty “. Additionally, the vehicle was already at its maximum design weight. With the added weight the innovative diesel-electric drivetrain was now underpowered. Interestingly, they found that in this configuration the cruiser was fastest in reverse. So, they simply started driving it backward. However, the prospects for long-range travel didn't look good and the crew was forced to abandon these efforts.
Making the best out of the situation, they used the airplane to survey large sections of the ice shelf that Little America III rested on and was able to scout into the continent.
While it’s primary purpose was not successful, it did find success as a stationary laboratory and served as the most luxurious and modern crew quarters on the continent. The innovative heating system and insulation material proved to be very effective and was integrated into future projects. However; the great Arctic Snow Cruiser was forever assigned as a stationary part of Little America III. This is how it remained until the western base was decommissioned in 1941. The entire base was evacuated later that year as the concentration of troops and funding moved to defend the world from the increasing German, Japanese, and Italian aggression. At that time the Arctic Snow Cruiser was buried with snow and abandoned.
After World War II, In 1946, during an American expedition called “operation high-jump,” the team located the abandoned base and the giant snow cruiser sitting exactly as it had been left. The team of explorers said the vehicle was in remarkably good condition. Saying “only air in the tires and a basic servicing would have had it up and running again”. However; nothing further was done and the Arctic Snow Cruiser was once again closed up and left to the elements.
In 1958 the cruiser made its final appearance on the world stage. This time it was an international expedition that completely uncovered the snow cruiser from its tomb of ice using a bulldozer. It was hidden under several feet of snow, but a long bamboo pole left by the previous expedition still marked the location of the Snow Cruiser. Inside the cruiser was again reported to be exactly how it was leftover two decades ago. Complete with newspapers, magazines, and cigarettes still placed as if waiting to be picked back up. This group of explorers was likely unaware at the time, but they were the last people to see the incredible Arctic Snow Cruiser.
Or were they? Could it be possible that the snow cruiser is still sitting under the snow and ice of Antarctica? Somewhat recently a team located pieces of Douglas Mawson’s “air-tractor”. They were discovered under 9 feet of ice (3 m). Relics from old expeditions are found regularly to this day. Many of these items are preserved by the sub-zero temperatures and ice encasement. Some feel that the Soviets may have recovered the Snow Cruiser after it was unearthed in 1958. While this is very plausible, it is unverifiable and remains just a theory. So to answer my question, “Could it be possible that the snow cruiser is still sitting under the snow”? This is likely not the case.
This is because in February of 1963 a US Navy icebreaker ship spotted an unusual streak of brown amongst the blues and whites of passing icebergs. As they edged closer they were amazed to find what appeared to be the remains of Little America III protruding from the iceberg. The ship launched its helicopter to take aerial photos. It even landed on the iceberg in an attempt to access the base. Ultimately they were unable to find a way in, however; they could clearly make out the remains of tents, fabric, and prefabricated huts. Huts that were strikingly similar to huts that Byrd used during his expeditions. The icebreaker was able to verify that cans of food and equipment were still neatly packed on the shelves; much like the team who visited Little America III in 1958 described. Five telephone poles and antenna fitting still stood above the snow. Notably, two bamboo marker poles were still in place on the surface.
It is a safe assumption that the ruins found by the Navy were that of Little America III. With that assumption taken into account, it means that the majority, if not all of the base has broken off the Antarctic ice shelf and has drifted away into the ocean. We do not know what part of the base that iceberg held, but it is entirely possible that one of those bamboo markers stood over the buried Arctic Snow Cruiser. It has likely drifted out to sea and eventually sunk to the sea bed. Though, a part of me doesn’t accept that this was its fate. I still hold hope that one day she will emerge jutting out of an old iceberg or maybe parched on the side of the Ross ice shelf. Perhaps it will be dredged up from the seabed by a commercial fishing operation. One thing is certain though, despite its failure to connect the East and West bases it succeeded at igniting the American spirit, imagination, and most of all innovation.
The Early Days
Most people are familiar with Nevadaville Colorado as a road-sign they pass on their way to the glittery casinos of Black Hawk or Central City. However; if you make one wrong turn on your way up I-70, you may find yourself in one of the many ghost towns that are crowded into the landscape of Gregory Gulch. One of the most stunning and well-preserved examples is Nevadaville Colorado.
In the 1800s Nevadaville was bustling with businesses, families, and of course; gold miners. It was founded in 1859 when John H. Gregory discovered the first lode-gold (or underground gold) in what would later become the state of Colorado. However, when Mr. Gregory was prospecting in Nevadaville; it was not yet a state and still a part of the western Kansas Territory. The town was primarily Irish and the miners worked two large gold lodes; the Burrough lode and the Kansas lode.
The town was also known in the 1860s and 1870s as “Nevada City”. Its post office was called “the Bald Mountain Post Office”. This was supposed to avoid confusion with other towns with the name “Nevada” or other Nevadavills in Colorado. Most people continued to call the settlement Nevada, Nevada City, or Nevadaville (Fun fact: Nevada is a Spanish word meaning “snow-clad” or “snowy land”).
The town died due to gold and silver running out in the early 1900s. At its peak it had over 4,000 residents, today only two full-time residents live in the community. Before its collapse, Nevadaville was one of the most important and largest mining settlements in the area. A fire destroyed over 50 buildings in 1861, including the taxidermist, a naturalist, and Martha Maxwell’s Boardinghouse. Interestingly the town folk made use of TNT to dig fire lines and saved the remaining portion of the city from the fire. They literally used fire to fight fire.
Despite the reconstruction efforts, the area’s gold veins were almost gone and Nevadavills glory days were behind it. This is because the near-surface mines were oxidized and tapped out. Leading the miners deeper into the mountain. The rudimentary ore mills had trouble recovering gold from the deep-sulfide-ores. Basically, it was looking bleak until more advanced and capable ore mills were built in the nearby city, Black Hawk. This sustained Nevadaville through the 1920s and ’30s, the town remained as a shadow of its former self. By the latter half of the 20th century, the population had declined to just a handful of individuals. Census data from 1950 shows only six residents living in the town.
I visited the town in 1998 and it was a much different place, even when compared to today. At that time the community was 4x larger, but even then this amounted to only 8 residents. The locals answered our questions politely but were not keen on holding long conversations. The town still sported a trading post, saloon, and a quaint little art gallery.
The Nevadaville Freemasons
Today the community is largely abandoned, but it is not completely deserted; a few very determined residents call Nevadaville home to this day. Only a few buildings stand on the main street. Acting as tributes and relics of the Old West version of Colorado. The Masonic Lodge continues to hold regular meetings. A tradition stemming back to the start of the temple in 1861.
The lodge was a planned part of the post-fire reconstruction and has remained active ever since, though it was not completed until the 1870s. Despite not having a lodge, the masons were already active and well established in the area. For the miners of the late 1800s becoming a Freemason was something to aspire to. The dues to be a member were $4 a year and the average miner made $1 a week. Meaning the cost of membership was an entire month's wages and not easily obtained.
Being a member of the Nevadaville Lodge gave men high status and wealth. It was an assurance that the brethren would help pay for medical needs or after-death expenses. A tradition stemming back to the gilded and medieval ages. It served as an early form of health insurance, life insurance, and general welfare services. It was the social-safety-net of its time. Larger modern institutions have adapted and incorporated elements of this system into theirs; such as labor-unions, international trade packs, and democratized medicine systems. Even to this day, the brethren of Masons help each other with their monetary needs.
Once a month the town population has a short-lived boom when the Freemasons converge onto Nevadaville. To practice their rituals in a building that was made by brothers from another era. The central hub of activity and the basic unit of the Masons is the lodge name. The group that meets in Nevadaville is called: “Nevada Lodge #4”. Today, there are a little under 2-million Masons in America and over 4,500 lodges.
The practice of Freemasonry (or Masonry) dates back to the medieval stonemason fraternities. Despite the wild and speculative rumors, most of their meetings involve mundane and structured conversations. Very similar to a board meeting or a shareholders meeting. But what captures the imagination of outsiders are the secretive ceremonies, rituals, and initiation process. The confidential nature of these meetings has bred a cacophony of conspiracy theories. Theories that were popularized in works of fiction; such as Dan Brown’s “The Lost Symbol” or films like “National Treasure”.
Nevadaville is host to one of a handful of ghost-town lodges and temples that reside in Colorado (you can see another example in this video). Many of these derelict buildings are still around today thanks to the efforts of the Freemasons, who over the decades preserved this particular structure. However; we can see more grand and ornate lodges and temples that are falling to ruin in cities like Victor or Cripple Creek Colorado.
Fortunately, the lodge in Nevadaville did not meet this fate. In a 2020 Colorado Public Radio interview, the current “Worshipful Master” (or elected leader) of the Nevadaville Lodge; Patrick Dey, said "you can still see the original wallpaper and wainscoting". According to Dey, the lodge-room has impressed outsiders, including members of other local lodges who come to the abandoned town for initiation.
According to Mr. In Dey's interview, they typically blindfold the pledges as they are led into Nevadaville and the lodge. Once the pledge is seated in the meeting room, the blindfold is removed. As Dey puts it, “when it comes off… I always hear them go, ‘WOW’. Just to be in that room during that is such an experience.”
Dey went on to say; “Up here in Nevadaville, we don’t get good cell phone reception, so you don’t have to worry about guys sitting there playing on their phones in lodge… So hang out, enjoy yourself. You’re in a ghost town!” Day says there has been looting and a few break-ins, but folks should know Nevadaville is not completely abandoned. Again, two residents live in the town year-round. There are many brethren and community members who visit often. If anything is suspected or at times where a disruption is likely; such as Halloween, the Masons post lookouts to make sure their property remains secure. Dey concluded with: “We...want to protect it. It’s important to us, and we think it’s important to history”.
Can You Visit?
While it’s important to protect the structure, it’s not completely closed to the public. The Masons are happy to show it off on special occasions. Annually they hold a pancake breakfast fundraiser that the public is welcome to attend.
Random visitors to Nevadville are generally not welcome, but passing through on the roadway is not an issue. However, I suggest that you drive by slowly and do not stop. If you do decide to park, be mindful of where you do so. The street itself is public, but the buildings and surrounding land are privately owned.
BEWARE DO NOT WANDER: the mine shafts are extremely dangerous to approach. This is because the ground nearby can collapse under the weight of a single person. The mines and equipment can be seen off in the distance and it may seem tempting to wander over for a closer look; do not do this. I cannot stress this point enough. The mine shafts were made in a manner that pulverized the granite walls and sides. This leaves us today with an ever crumbling sinkhole. The edges have a tendency to cave and you can end up dead at the bottom of a 13-500 ft (3.9-154.4 m) shaft. There are numerous sinkholes appearing daily. One such hole is nicknamed, “The Glory Hold” which is 1,450 ft (441.9m) deep. That’s large enough to fit the entire Willis Tower (Formerly SEARS Tower) in Chicago.
A 35-mile drive and a 3,200-foot climb through the foothills of Denver will lead you to the Central City Cemetery. This is a grouping of several smaller cemeteries and family plots that sits at a total of 8,495 feet (258 m) above sea level. The land is back-dropped by spectacular views of the Rocky Mountains and is peppered with colorful wild-flowers. The first grave-site was dug shortly after the Gold Rush period, in 1884 and the last grave was dug in 1913. It contains 17 families and groups, split between 26 cemeteries.
Central City Colorado is the largest town that is adjacent to the Central City Cemetery. However; many of the surrounding communities that once interred its residents here are now lost to time or ghost towns. Some such examples are; Nevadavilla and Apex Colorado. Meaning Central City and its cemetery remain, but the size of this Cemetery is attributed to many communities that no longer exist.
Central City was first discovered by John Gregory. Only two weeks after his arrival people began to join John and in just over two months over 10,000 people lived in Central City and it’s ancillary communities.
The area that we now know as Central City was formally incorporated by William Byers, from the Rocky Mountain News. He and his companions pitched a tent in the central square, in what was just considered a large mining district. This act elevated the area to more than a settlement and it became an emerging city center. This portion of town became known as “The Richest Square Mile on Earth”. In-fact there is a stone monument on the eastern side of the city commemorating the event.
In 1874, a great fire destroyed most of the buildings in town. However; this was almost a required step for a Western city to grow out of its timber construction methods. Like many cities, they rebuilt with more sturdy materials; such as stone and brick. This is why we can still enjoy and marvel at “Ol’ Central City” to this day.
Today Central City is home to only 765 living residents; however, they are becoming well known for the thousands of residents who have passed on and refuse to leave. The Central City Cemetery is home to countless fraternal orders, secret societies, and religious sects. Some of the most well known are the “Central City Mason Cemetery”, “The Catholic Cemetery”, “Independent Order of the Odd Fellows Cemetery”, and “The Knights of Pythias Cemetery” (all of which are sub-plots within the greater Central City Cemetery”).
Knights of Pythias Cemetery
While much attention is paid to the Freemason Cemetery (and I will cover this); the Knights of Pythias Cemetery has its own set of legends and ghost stories. The Knights were the second fraternal organization to receive a charter from Congress, in 1864. They were second to the freemasons, who received a charter in 1752 (this charter was passed down from its grand lodge in Scotland before we were a country).
The group's by-laws and charter were inspired by a play written by Irish poet, John Banim. The play was a political satire that told the story of Damon and Pythias. The central themes of the play were of friendship and loyalty. New members were provided a sword upon their induction; however, this practice no longer exists. Today, there are about 2,000 lodges, as well as many cemeteries that are scattered throughout the country.
Much of this fading brotherhood’s dead lie under the Central City Cemetery with their swords by their side. The Knights of Pythias grave-site is characterized by its rod iron gates that were once topped with faux Tesla balls. Remnants of the Tesla balls are still seen on smaller fences within the plot. This was likely a nod to Nicola Tesla, who built an experimental station in a nearby town and conducted much of his research in the City of Colorado Springs. With that said, you can see how the imagination tends to run wild with a deeper connection to Nicola Tesla and the Knights of Pythias
The Knights gravesite is bordered and sits across from the Independent Order of the Odd Fellows cemetery. On the border of these two sites you will find unmarked body mounds that curve skyward. There are many accounts of ghostly spirits lurking between these two burial grounds. The most frequent account is of a phantom woman, who is not from the period. Rather she wears a brightly colored red and teal track-suit; circa Mid-eighties or early 1990s. She sports short curly brown hair, yet has no face. Visitors claim to encounter her as they round corners or tree lines. Often she appears directly to the right of the passerby. Before anyone can say “excuse me” or “hello”, she disappears. These interactions have been reported to startle both the otherworldly guest as well as the passerby.
This portion of the Central City Cemetery is well maintained and is positioned away from most other grave-sites and cemeteries. The Freemason plot is the section that is often referred to as one of the “most haunted places in Colorado”.
It has been widely reported that every 5th of April and 1st of November, the grave of John Edward Cameron is visited by a woman. Unlike the Knights of Pythias spirit; this specter wears period clothing. She is said to be a beautiful young lady w ho wears a black Victorian-style dress and keeps her hair of their shoulders with a braided-chignon hairdo. She appears twice a year to lay flowers in the vase that sits directly in front of Mr. Cameron’s grave.
John Cameron died on November 1st, 1885, and was a member of the Freemasons. There is a lot of speculation and rumors in regards to the connection to Cameron and the “Lady in Black”. There is a record of a man named John having died November 1st from “paralysis of the heart”. It is rumored that John was a sought after bachelor. Despite the local women's advances, he was not tempted. John’s heart longed for and was devoted to a woman who lived near Bald Mountain.
The first sightings of the Lady in Black date back to the 1880s. People speculate that the lady planted the rosebushes that once bloomed each spring beside John’s grave. The phantom-women continued to appear and deliver her bouquet of roses until June 1888, when the church-sexton removed the bushes. This seemed to stop the ghostly encounters but, only two years later the sexton saw her again. This time she carried a bouquet of columbine flowers; which bloom commonly in the surrounding meadows. He recalled that she placed the flower in the vase; reflected for a moment, before turning to Bald Mountain before disappearing.
Once there were twelve paranormal investigators who gathered on Cameron’s grave and awaited her arrival. They spent most of the afternoon here and they expected a long night. However; as dusk sets in and to the amazement of the group the Lady in Black appeared. One of them attempted to approach her, when he attempted to grab her she reportedly “flew off and suddenly vanished into a nearby hillside”.
This sprawling grouping of cemeteries is mostly overgrown; however, a good portion of its residents are fortunate to have been buried in the meadows and are not likely to be overgrown. Fortunately, the majority of the damage is due to decay, not vandalism. However, to my shock, I did see a recently removed headstone, during my visit. To add insult to injury, it was a child's headstone. All that was left was a toy left in the child's memory.
The cemetery is listed as active by the Colorado Dept. of Health, who maintains the list. This list indicates that the site is now maintained by Central City. If you are interested in donating time or money to the preservation of the site please contact. The Gilpin County Historical Preservation Commission, in this link.
Photos from Central City Cemetery
In this month's article, I would like to visit Woodland Park, Colorado. This town is so steeped in forgotten history that I will likely revisit it a few times. That said; today's tale is about a piece of property that barely missed Wal-Mart's wrecking ball and housed some of the world's earliest skiing enthusiasts.
I am focusing on land that was sold; in 2005, to Roger Thompson of the Wal-Mart real estate corporation. His intention was to develop a low-end department store combined with a grocery store. This news sparked community outrage over fears the store would eclipse main street businesses, damage historical property, and destroy the city's small-town quality of life. That April, town hall meetings were a roar with accusations, conflicts of interests, and preservation concerns
They pointed to the fact that city voters had already voted; in 1988, to not allow the town council to build city-funded infrastructure. This infrastructure was designed to entice Wal-Mart into opening a store in Woodland Park. The difference between 1988 and 2005 is that Teller County's population nearly doubled in those 17 years. With so much growth Wal-Mart no longer needed incentives to be interested in opening up shop.
Arguably Wal-Mart did not wreak all of the havoc that people feared, but the list of businesses that closed, opened, and closed again since the Wal-Mart opened is too large to keep up with. It’s a safe bet to say that the small retail-business market in Woodland Park became more volatile, but as a whole, the town seems to be better off with Wal-Mart and its tax revenue.
The town hall discussions concerning Wal-Mart was where we learned of the land’s historic significance. In response to these (and other) concerns Wal-Mart assured the people of Woodland Park that they would; preserve historic buildings, set aside 37% of the land for open space, pave the Crystola trail, and create a bronze sculpture of a local hero. As soon as the development was approved by the city council the land was transferred to “private developers” and no one heard from Roger Thompson again. These private developers only followed through with two of Rodgers’ promises; they preserved the historic buildings on the land and paved less than a mile of the Crystola trail.
The buildings that were spared served many uses during its time. The most obvious is that it was used as a cattle ranch in the 1800s. What is not so obvious is it was once the hub of Southern-Colorado Skiing and was the home to one of the first “ski clubs” west of the Mississippi River, The Silver Spruce Ski Club. This area was one of three ski areas developed by Don Lawrie and the buildings that remain were once used as a warming house for Don’s crew. Don was a pioneer of the sport of skiing and eventually became the president of the Silver Spruce Ski Club
Don developed ski areas with the help of volunteers and he funded this with the little donations they could put together. This was demanding physical labor that was done during the heat of summer.
Lawrie was quoted in the book “Lost Ski Areas of Colorado” saying; “Back then, the ski club built all their areas with donations and with volunteer labor. We never had any money, and we had to improvise and make do. We worked hard, we skied hard and we had a wonderful time.”
At this time skiing was considered somewhat barbaric and was not widely accepted in the United States. None-the-less Don encouraged people to try the sport and coached people to enter tournaments around Colorado. In addition to being a mentor to new skiers, he also participated as a competitor in cross-country and jumping events. Some of these events were said to have drawn up to 800 people. The competitions evolved into a great fundraising opportunity for many of the local ski clubs.
In 1929 Don implemented a plan to reduce the club membership fees in order to make skiing available to more people. Also at that time, he merged his club with the US Western Amature Ski Association. This incorporation literally brought busloads of people who were interested in skiing to the Edlow course in Woodland Park.
By 1936 Don’s incorporation of local ski clubs had grown out of its cross-country skiing roots and evolved into a club that was more focused on downhill and slalom skiing. The new focus of the club and the larger group brought with it a new name, “The Pikes Peak Ski Club''. That same year he adapted an old Whippet automobile engine into a mechanical tow rope, to help people up the hills. This made it so people could get up the hill without using busses or hiking. More interestingly this was a first of a kind tow rope that was widely mimicked in the Western United States
In 1948, Don Lawrie had become the Pikes Peak Highway administrator. He decided to find a new ski area that would be less windy and have more shade. With his army Weasel, he scouted a north-facing slope on Pikes Peak. This slope would later become the “Elk Park Winter Sports Area”, but it was better known as the “Pikes Peak Ski Area”. The ski run was originally cleared by the Highway Road crew, but only when they could take time away from their normal responsibilities. The area was completed by volunteers including Soldiers from Fort Carson and students from Colorado College. These hearty volunteers spent most summer weekends working on the ski runs. By night they would sleep under the stars with just a sleeping bag. Similar to the Woodland Park Ski run, a warming house was used however; in this instance, it was an old CCC building that was moved to the base of the new ski area.
In 1954, skiing was finally authorized at Elk Park. Don had created a fun and affordable ski destination. All people needed was skis, a $1 toll for the highway, and an additional fee for using the tow rope. People flocked from the nearby cities to enjoy an affordable afternoon skiing.
Don then went on to be influential in the formation of the non-profit “Pikes Peak Ski Corporation”. This charity was used to finance improvements to the ski areas for many years. Don served on the Board of Directors of the organization until the mid-sixties.
Pikes Peak became the major ski area for Colorado Springs for many years. The ski area was very small compared to runs in places like Vail Colorado or Keystone Colorado. In the early 1980’s they added a $700,000 triple chair made by Poma-USA. The Poma provided new terrain above the timberline, but snow is really hard to come by in this area. The trails were often wind-blown and packed. After the lift was put in the ski area had a terrible season, with very little turnout. Subsequently, it was not able to pay its taxes or pay Poma-USA for their newly installed lift.
Skiing on Pikes Peak or “Americas Mountain” continued until the mid-1980s. By this time the operation was becoming increasingly expensive to maintain. This is because all of the snow was man-made or shipped down from higher elevations. The city of Colorado Springs purchased the property for a brief period. But it was promptly determined to be too expensive and was sold again to Vail Resorts. The lack of snow and increased costs made it a bad investment. Vail Resorts took the opportunity to close the ski area after the 1984 season. Not only did they close down their competition, but they also closed the chapter of U.S. history about Skiing in Southern Colorado.
The heyday of Pikes Peak’s organized skiing took place near the Glen Cove area and Woodland Park. These were the sites that Don Lawrie and his friends chose before Elk Park grew into a skiing destination. Heck, it was even before Colorado was considered a ski destination. Don’s grand ideas never wavered and he was fortunate to have seen many of them become a reality. Lawrie died in 2000 and was long retired by then. But it was his dreams and ambitions that helped to create the ski scene in Colorado. He brought the skiing industry to life before it boomed in higher elevations and in well-known towns like Aspen, Vail, or Telluride.
Don’s grandson; Don Sanborn, was quoted in Colorado Springs, in regards to his Grandfather saying: “Even in his 90s, he still harbored a dream of starting a ski area, like at some hill behind the Wal-Mart in Woodland Park. We told him, ‘You need to see what ski hills and areas are really like now!'”. While Don was well aware of what modern ski resorts had become, he longed for a more simple and pure version of his sport. And to some degree, we can all understand that. To Don, this wasn’t an unreasonable idea, especially when we consider that behind this Wal-Mart was where he helped to make one of the first ski runs in Colorado. This is why I propose that the Woodland Park Wal-Mart follow through with its promise of building a bronze statue, by erecting a statue of Don Lawrence and the Silver Spring Ski Club.
Photos From The Day:
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