Forgotten Ohio: January 21, 2011
Forgotten Ohio
Friday, January 21, 2011

Forgotten Forgotten Ohio

Yes, the joke in the title of this update is that the website has been so infrequently updated that it's, like, abandoned itself! Get it? Like the places I photograph and research and put up sections about. Except I'm talking about the website itself! Forgotten Forgotten Ohio! You see, the site is called Forgotten Ohio...if you stay with me you'll see that it is hilarious.

You know, I have had this website since the spring of 1999, when my good friend Ryan taught me how to write HTML code, how to upload pictures, and how to get a free website from Geocities. Back then I didn't have a name for the site, but Ryan had done one about his car, which he used to race at different events around the state. But he and I had been talking about abandoned buildings and interesting off-limits places, and particularly how we had direct access to the steam tunnels under Ohio State University. They were being talked about on campus at that time because of the attention given to a website called Under OSU: The university had discovered someone's collection of pictures and information about the legendary network of utility tunnels just beneath the streets and sidewalks, connecting all the buildings and synchronizing the clocks, as well as providing a convenient place to lay fiber optic wires for what was then a relatively new internet system.

Columbus's The Other Paper did a story about the controversy; at that time it was still a strange new concept, a website about something. I don't think the media or the general public had yet grasped just how mundane a website is; there was something eerie and omniscient about this "internet" (a word which some spell checkers still try to make you capitalize). And if the movie Tron taught us anything, it's that computers can suck you in and force you to fight to the death with throwing discs.

So the story ran about OSU's efforts to have this student's website taken down. They didn't succeed, and then they stopped trying, but it had given the kid with the site plenty of attention, including a couple of interviews with John Ruch of The Other Paper.

Ryan and I observed this from our jobs as student Operations employees at the Ohio Union, OSU's main student union. Since there was often a ton of downtime at the Union, you got to know everyone, had a lot of conversations, and spent time exploring, if you were any fun at all. One of the first things I learned was that Ryan was absolutely great; he's just one of those awesome people you run across from time to time who you know you want to be friends with right off the bat. I'm sure you know what I mean. Ryan is witty and brilliant, sarcastic and hilarious, adventurous and fun, just the coolest guy you'd ever want to meet. He still is.

It's to him I owe whatever success Forgotten Ohio has had, which I measure in the number of people who view it and enjoy it, especially when they write to tell me so.

Right now you'd be forgiven for thinking that Forgotten Ohio was forgotten, but that's very far from the truth. Although I've done several updates with the excellent digital camera a generous friend let me have, I still have many, many rolls of 35mm film which need developing. If anyone would like to do me and the website a huge favor, I have four words for you: Cord Camera Gift Cards. But of course I'm not asking for charity. I'm hoping that somebody might want to help me do updates like I used to do. I have a perfectly road-worthy car and now I can begin doing updates like I used to, but first I must develop some film, for sure.

My updates for today are maybe a little bit thin, but I'd like to pre-advertise a section being created for the Columbus Coated Fabrics Warehouse, which stood abandoned along the railroad tracks near where they cross Fifth Avenue, east of Fourth Street. I know I've mentioned it before in my updates section, but all of the plentiful building complex was demolished after I explored and photographed it. I even returned a day or so later with my good friend and extremely beautiful and talented model Jamie, who posed throughout the building and let me work on my skills as a photographer of people. (That's a talent I've been working to improve, since I've had so much success with the publication of my pictures of the inanimate everywhere from other people's websites to official sites for local papers, local TV news and newspapers, as well as a profile on the National Public Radio website when they did a story about Cincinnati's abandoned subway.) I continue to use the unbelievably cool places I visit to profile for the website as settings for my photo shoots with gorgeous models. Some of them I already know, but some are semi-professional, and my shoots have turned out amazingly well. The one Jamie did for me upon my return to Columbus Coated Fabrics is full of fascinating lighting, wonderful use of props and cool settings, and the contrast between unsalvageable ruin and a lovely model.

But I do not yet have my photographs of the pre-demolition Columbus Coated Fabrics warehouse complex, and that is a genuine shame. I should have had this up a year ago. Currently a drive up North Grant Avenue from Fifth will offer you some version of this charming sight:

Not a terribly historically significant building, I will admit; and yet for generations working people passed through its gates in what was once a nicely safe neighborhood. They worked hard, and in return they were paid a living wage or something very close to it. If they didn't belong to a union (and my guess is they did), their employers had to compete with union wages and union benefits being offered down the street. This was a manufacturing district, Columbus, Ohio's contribution to the backbone of our nation's sturdy middle class. It was a place where one parent could work and the other didn't have to, though she could if she wanted. More often she paid close attention to the children--their schooling, socialization, and discipline. In those days that middle class backbone was kept healthy and upright by vertebrae like Allentown, Bethlehem, and Pittsburgh; Weirton and Wheeling; Steubenville, Youngstown, Akron, Canton, Toledo, and Cleveland; Saint Louis, Gary, Cicero, and Chicago; and Pontiac, Dearborn, Flint, and Detroit.

Columbus was never the manufacturing hub that even a city like Canton was. But it was places like Detroit, crown jewel of US industrial might, that defined the American postwar boom. Now, if you've been there in the last quarter century, you'll know that this photograph could just as easily have been taken in the Motor City as Columbus, Ohio.

Demolished factories, emptied of people and valuable scrap and bulldozed to the tarmac, are common sights now, and the first years of the 21st century certainly weren't good ones for the kind of average American who used to punch a time card at Columbus Coated Fabric. (The kind of American who used to collect stock dividend checks from CCF, that's a different story. The 21st century was designed to help those best able to help themselves; hopefully we're seeing that attitude come to an end.) But while it stood, the CCF plant--really a network of buildings for the various stages of textile treatment--told a story. And it's that story you might get a glimpse of when I post the full array of photographs I took of the place, inside and out, before the demolition crew came for it at long last. More than just a magnificent abandoned structure edging an inner city neighborhood and lining an urban railroad line, its layout and its floor and rooms told us about the work lives spent there. And that's a big part of what makes exploring such a place worthwhile, not to mention a lot of fun.

Before I do post what will prove to be a large section of the website, I would love to hear from anyone who knows about Columbus Coated Fabrics. Anyone who worked there would be especially welcome to write in and relate their memories of the place when it was up and running at full capacity.

I have also done a whole series of small updates; next time I'll list them here so everyone can be sure they're up to date on what's current on Forgotten Ohio. I'm as much a stickler for correcting the tiniest details as I am for grammar, punctuation, and spelling. But it's more than that; I don't even list grammatical fixes under Updates. But I have added several "new" hauntings discovered in various ways, some rather creepy, and they're worth reading, and therefore worth inclusion in the Update. But for now I'll discuss Columbus Coated Fabrics, as well as a link worth visiting.

The Fruitcake Files is a website that's part blog, part full-blown website. It's a blog that actually overflows the container of what a simple blog is supposed to fill. Full disclosure: it's author is Jude Barker, my girlfriend's mother, and although you might think I'd post a link to it here anyway (and you might be right), I ask you to give it your special attention because it's actually really good. Jude is a genuine rarity: an accomplished playwright, published and performed. As someone who loves writing, adores great writing, and is fascinated by the connection a good author creates with his or her audience, I've been impressed by the work of hers that I've read and seen performed.

Jude writes about writing, though not as much about her own as I'd like. Every conversation I've had with her on the subject has been superbly enlightening.

But here, on the Fruitcake Files, she has chosen to write on something she knows an awful lot about: literature. Specifically, young adult and children's literature. Like any knowledgable person who writes well, the site goes off on tangents and in some ways that makes it the most fun. It's one of those pages you go to seeking information of a certain kind but come away with much more than you intended. So obviously, there's more here than might seem to meet the eye. Movies, music, writing (about drama and more), the Beatles--all here, plus plenty more, all composed in a manner that manages to cohere around a truly interesting central theme.

And that's what's cool about the Fruitcake Files: it introduces you to writing you'd never, under other circumstances, even have heard of. I'll bet you find something there to enjoy.

PS. If you'll be good enough to check the Fruitcake Files out, please do me a favor and become a Follower of the blog. It would mean a lot to Jude, my girlfriend, and me--and it's not like you'll regret it. It really is a neat site, and a good read. Once you click and become a Follower, make some comments of your own. I've found it's a great place to start a discussion with intelligent people who share the interests common to a lot of intelligent people. And like I said, it's fun. Thank you.

I am reading:
FICTION - Foucault's Pendulum, by Umberto Eco
The Good Wife, by Stewart O'Nan
Foundations of Fear: An Exploration of Horror, edited by David G. Hartwell
NONFICTION - Final Exits: The Illustrated Encyclopedia of How We Die, by Michael Largo
Strange Crimes and Criminals, by Carl Sifakis

I am listening to:
"Carol Brown" by Flight of the Conchords

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