Old buildings for have enthralled me as long as I can remember. I find myself saddened when they are torn down, for it feels like it is a death to the history that took place within those walls. While logically, I understand they become a warehouse for vandalism and criminal activities, not to mention safety hazards for people who sneak in. Emotionally however, I always feel like it’s a way of just wiping it out of existence.
After moving from Iowa to Oklahoma, I discovered by accident one day a story about ghost towns. I was excited about this. Over Instagram, I had found a plethora of photographs taken at old decaying locations that are so tragically beautiful. I found more and more from Oklahoma, which only made me wish that I could go out and explore myself. I especially love old schools. This state seems to be full of old abandoned schools from the days where Native American children were taken off the reservation and “civilized” and from schools during segregation.
I started researching and making a list of the places I wanted to go for myself. While I would be “tickled pink” to photograph the inside of some of these locations, a trespasser I am not. I admit I am more concerned about my clean criminal record than I am giving into that dream. I found Blackburn Oklahoma online after seeing the photographs of the old school. I read articles about how a handful of abandoned buildings and perhaps a dozen residents remained. Photographs I saw made the town look like it really was abandoned except for those few stragglers who refuse to lift up their roots and move on.
I drove the hour from Tulsa to Blackburn. Turning down the blacktop road that leads to the town off the highway I thought that it truly must be a place desolate of life because of the loneliness of this road. I was getting amped up with the idea of being possibly the only person wandering around a town once thriving and now forgotten. I was rather surprised, and disappointed, to discover how populated this town really is.
Honestly, I was offended that Blackburn even makes a list of ghost towns. There are more than a handful of homes occupied in town. The downtown boasted fewer building than expected. While they were mostly abandoned looking, in my experience, this community was not abandoned, nor was it a Ghost Town. Sure, the town does not have a convenience of cafes or at least a gas station like many other dwindling but still functioning communities, but this town is not dead by any means. By evidence of the people still making their homes here. I have lived in towns much like this one. Nodaway Iowa barely retains their post office, and has nothing else to offer other than homes now, and I had never heard of it referred to a ghost town. I think my grandparents would be rolling in their graves if they heard such folly. I now wonder if people who live in Blackburn Oklahoma take offense to people like me who come rolling in with their cameras and using words like “abandoned” and “ghost town.” I can say if I lived here, I would. For those words insinuate a lack of life. Progress and development are not necessary to life. Give a community plenty of friendly neighbors and it is home to them as much as those of us who live in Tulsa. They just cannot go around the corner grab a bite to eat.
There was a corner gas station towards the former downtown. Although I am guessing that it is not currently functioning as a gas station, but perhaps a basic convenience store. I imagine it closes up shop earlier in the day than I had arrived. I can picture an older couple owning and running it, the type who are full of wonderful stories about the glory days of Blackburn. There was an older pump sitting out front. It was the short, wide, boxy style, and I got the impression that it no longer provides gasoline. I planned on stopping back to photograph this pump, but unfortunately by time I was done with my other pictures, I had the uncomfortable problem of a full bladder, and several miles to go back to the town with modern conveniences like public Ladies Rooms.
The Blackburn School did not disappoint me. As promised, it still stood prominent and proud. It was smaller than I expected, but compared easily to the town size. The building itself seemed to be in great shape, especially for being closed for many years. My mother always says a home left empty without a family becomes depressed and decays. I think this is the same with a school left sitting empty without a purpose. The school was connected to a large metal building, the sort that look like half circles. I will certainly being doing more research on this addition, for it intrigued me. I also found myself fascinated by the light over the entrance door.
Pulling up to the school I felt a little awkward, this being one of my first few experiences exploring abandoned buildings. However, with a friendly wave of a woman riding down the road with her two children on an ATV, my concerns regarding the reception of the local residents were eased. Most likely they are used to strangers toting around cameras coming to look at the school. I did not try to enter the school, and decided against peeking into the one window that looked like I could see the interior clearly, when a wasp buzzed around my head.
Off the school a ways was an old decaying home. I like to make up stories for homes about the types of people who lived there. I imagined here that it was a family and their kids only had to run across the yard to get to the school. The mother did her washing in a garage like building off the main house, and this was why I could see an antique washer left amongst the rubble.
Those are the types of homes and buildings that most fascinate me. Blackburn did not boast many of those. It really felt like a home to honest hardworking people who stay not because of amenities, but because of a sense of community with their neighbors. Other than the initial disappointment of Blackburn not being truly a “ghost town” I enjoyed my time spent here.
I photographed the school, did some portraits of my son in the beautiful evening glow, and photographed the skeleton of the former home nearby, complete with the boat in the front yard.
I would say the main thing that left a sour taste was coming upon a “Cash for Junk Cars” sign tacked to a pole. I see these everywhere here in the city and it diminished the quietness of the town for just a moment for me.
All said, I think I would stand with the residents of this community and say, while it is dwindling away, Blackburn is not dead yet.