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Link - - article by M. Christian

This article is accompanied by gorgeous urban photography by David Tribby (exclusive for DRB). You can order David Tribby's book "Gary, Indiana: A City's Ruins", or you can purchase prints here.

Abandoned Areas of Gary Indiana: The Town That "Knew Me When"

...For a long time, it was a city bright with prospect, bustling with commerce, bubbling with the laughter of prosperity. Sure, even at its heights, the town was never as sleepless as New York, flavorful as San Francisco, or sultry as New Orleans. But Gary was still a place apparently built on a sturdy foundation, reinforced by the seemingly never-ending need for steel.

(all images copyright David Tribby Photography, used by exclusive permission)

Some of you may remember "Professor" Harold Hill, the charming yet totally dubious traveling salesman, waxing poetic about this town in The Music Man - click here to watch him sing. His song may be laced with sarcasm: each note nothing but a needle-prick of scorn.... and yet Gary, Indiana, used to be more than just the subject of a con man's contempt.

("City Methodist Church", David Tribby Photography)

Founded in 1906, it was a gleaming city built of, and because of, steel.

Gary, Indiana, back then, was still a good place, a productive place. Founded in 1906, it was a gleaming city built of, and because of, steel. Quite literally, in fact; while other cities may have been at the intersections of trails or roads, rivers and rivers, or where sea met land, Gary was built by and for U.S. Steel and even christened for that corporation's founder.

For decades, Gary was as tough and resilient as the metals it produced. It survived the Great Depression, it fought off the war years, and it forged and pressed through the 1950s. But during the 1960s, its gleaming life's blood—steel—proved to be its undoing when the industry began to wane, then almost totally collapse, due to cheaper manufacturing overseas.

Now, though, Gary, Indiana has become a visual accompaniment of Hill's song. What he sang in playful mocking has now become a sad ballad of municipal failure, a once-proud and productive American city abandoned to cracks and collapse, ruin and rust, and decay and destruction. Gary, Indiana, has become its own urban tombstone, with each house, building, and factory an epitaph practically bearing the inscription WHAT USED TO BE.

("Union Station", David Tribby Photography)

But even in collapse, ruin, and decay, there is still something oddly special, weirdly beautiful, poignantly lovely about the city of Gary, Indiana.

In Every Photograph: The Dark Beauty, the Reverent Silence...

David Tribby, a truly remarkable artist whose medium is light and film, has pointed his skilled lenses at this city and has captured not just what this formerly great American city has become in its failure and decomposition but also the ghostly after-images of what it used to be. The images show the sadness of its fall from being full of bustling life to whispering ruins.

Here, in these astonishing images, Tribby makes us hold our breaths in reverent silence. The golden light still streaming through the windows of a church where songs used to be sung:

("City Methodist Church", David Tribby Photography)

The stadium where the crowds cheered and roared for victory, now a space for quiet memories:

("Gilroy Stadium", David Tribby Photography)

The homes that used to sparkle with the laughter of life, fallen into the uncomfortable peace of the left-behind:

The windows, some broken, others intact, that used to look out on a lively coming-and-going city, that have become nothing but mirrors reflecting on what used to be:

Yet, while Tribby's photographs may seem like a tour through the depressing landscape of a world falling apart, crumbling away, fading into nothing, there is still something magical about the city he captures. The American metropolis of Gary, Indiana, is all but gone now, but in its destruction, there is also a strange kind of beauty, a haunting elegance to its failure, that Tribby has exposed through his talented eye.

(top: "City Methodist Church", all images copyright David Tribby Photography)

Within these images, the song from The Music Man perhaps echoing in the background, is a kind of shuddering reminder of our own urban mortality. Gary, after all, is not far away, not foreign, not exotic: it is our own next-door neighbor, and our own possible future. The dark beauty of Tribby's work says to all of us that while the ruins are in their own way astonishing, they are also evidence of what could happen anywhere, even, as Hill sings, in our own home town: the "one place that can light my face."

Yes, Hill sings his song of Gary with clear sarcasm and bile, but when he sang that it was the town that "knew me when," he could very well be seeing the city as it is now: the Gary, Indiana, that Tribby has frozen in place.


Read our "Abandoned Places & Urban Exploring" Series ->



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Blogger PK said...

That's so incredibly sad, since it was Michael Jackson's birthplace. It ought to be fixed up and made into a museum of sorts to him...

Blogger JJD said...

An outstanding post!

Blogger Dave Yaros said...

For an in-depth look at the Gary, IN that was and is, one might want to peruse the presentation on the Dave's Den web site - Click Here

Anonymous Anonymous said...

To PK, what exactly did MJ do for Gary?

Blogger Mark said...

"Yes, Hill sings his song of Gary with clear sarcasm and bile..."

Well, not really: the song was written in the 1950s, right at the peak of Gary's arc, right? In retrospect we may interpret it as ironic mockery, but that's not built into the song.

Anonymous Anonymous said...

I used to work in Gary during 1996-99 years. The first day I joined and went out for lunch to a KFC across the street, my colleagues warned me to get food from home or get mugged. Being new to US and my first visit to Gary was a real eye opener.With the Jobs gone and economy in shambles it was a desolate landscape. There was a shooting 2 blocks from the office the day before I joined , later I learned was lot of gang banging and drugs. I used to live 4 miles away from Gary a beautiful little town called Crown Point and used to wonder what a difference 4 miles was.I was new to driving and took a less menacing route to Chicago Lakeshore drive avoiding the 80/94 Dan Ryan road rage way where honking or driving slow means sure death.Little did I know that I will be venturing past the Gary and its extended neighborhoods past the Amoco refinery and South Chicago. It was eerily a haunting scenario from old hollywood movies showing a desolate town and only the noise of some squawking bird. There were very few people near apartment blocks, the shops boarded or heavily armored , empty parks and no kids. The only successful business near Gary that seems to be crowded would be Al Bundy's favorite nudie bar and casino. During the winter you would notice some burning drums with people huddling to get some warmth and it felt a brutal existence for the people living there.There was some federal grant during Clinton years to revamp Gary, restart the convention center, which I bet was for used for payroll subsidy to keep the dead man walking.

Anonymous James said...

Lovely photos.

This is what "murder capital of the world" will do for you.

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thank yoi for posting this! My husband is from Gary, and it is very sad to see the ruins of what used to be such a grand city. Whenever we drive through Gary, I always look at the buildings and try to imagine what they looked like when the city was in its prime.

Anonymous Anonymous said...

wasn't this suppossed to be the first all black city. Which is the way they wanted it. Even with help from the government it still ends up being a ghetto. So this is the model they wanted to set for the rest of the country for the black community.

Blogger Becs said...

My grandfather was a welder and moved frequently from job to job during WWII. One place that he talked about, twenty years later, was Gary and how much he had liked it there.

Anonymous Florian / AbandonedKansai said...

Absolutely fantastic photos! After two years of urbex in Japan I'm really longing to explore some stuff in a Western country. Time for a trip to the States...

Anonymous C Nelson said...

No, Anonymous idiot, Gary was not supposed to be, nor was it ever, "the first all black city." (That would be Eatonville, Florida.) *Gary* was billed as "the city of the century", and it was filled, at least in the early years, with immigrants and their US-born children. For the record, that's *European* immigrants -- Germans, Russians, Poles, etc.

Only after the immigration restrictions that came with WWI did American blacks really start moving to Gary in greater numbers, along with the Mexicans the company also encouraged to immigrate. Not, you understand, that they really wanted to socialise with those blacks and Mexicans, dear me, no. But they got the work done, while there was work.

It is in no small part attitudes and ignorance very like your own that contributed to what Gary is today; prejudice like that does tend to lead to the kind of racial conflict that became Gary's public image. As it turns out, that conflict only gets worse when you combine it with worrying about how you're going to feed your children and knowing you'll be at the end of the line for anything and everything because some people think the color of their skin and the language they learned with their mother's milk add up to virtue on their part instead of pure luck.

Anonymous Anonymous said...

I live not to far from here, and I promise this is as beautiful as I've seen the city in 20 years... gary is the one place we "219'ers" wont go after dark, especially since the police are off the clock after 5.

Blogger Unknown said...

You can thank the labor unions for driving out the big steel mills, textile mills and other manufacturing that employed thousands of people. Vehicle manufacturing went to using lots of robots and other automation, but the automation technology for these other industries didn't come soon enough to keep them in the USA when labor priced itself out of the market.

Anonymous Gregoryno6 said...

The rooms with a lone chair and the huge fireplace could have been J F Sebastian's residence in Blade Runner. Unsettling when life and art resemble each other so closely.

Anonymous Kim said...

Unknown, it wasn't labor unions that drove steel productions overseas. Would YOU want to work for Chinese wages, and try to keep up with the cost of living in the States? Unions promise living wages and health care. I'd hope any American would want those things.

Anonymous Brian said...

On the History Channel series "Life After People," which examines how our man-made structures would fare if we were all to disappear, they profiled Gary and its decay. A theater had an early 1970s poster for the Jackson Five still in its marquee -- the last concert played there! Creepy...

Blogger Justin Rycaj said...

If it's abandoned why are there so many cars on the street? Surely it isn't that huge of a tourist attraction.

Anonymous Anonymous said...

@Kim - the amount of how much the auto industry wanted to pay was far from "slave wages". Stop the hyperbole. Making $50/hr in wages and benefits including generous pensions just isn't sustainable in the auto manufacturing business. Just look at all the foreign car manufacturer plants that have been built over the last 20 years. Every single one has been in a Red state, a right to work state, and a non-union factory.

I challenge you to go talk to one of those BMW, Mercedes, Toyota, Nissan, Honda, Kia, or Hyundai assembly workers and ask if any of THEM feel they are making "slave wages." There are waiting lines for job openings in those factories.


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