Hot sun, rust, tired bricks and Virginia Creeper.The only sounds came from the industrial strength lawn mower overpowering the grass in vacant lots in Cairo, Illinois.
After seeing photos of the downtown’s abandoned buildings, I couldn’t wait to visit.The night before I hardly slept – images of rust and deterioration floated through my dreams.Ghoulish, I know, but I see beauty in remains.
A little less than an hour from our base in Paducah, Cairo is the southernmost city in Illinois and sits at the meeting of the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers.A former center of railroad and river shipping , the city’s welcome sign reflects its current state of affairs.
Just past the welcome sign is a motel on the right. I couldn’t wait to get out of the car and grab my camera.Then I saw the black cat outside room 12. There is no 13 of course, but Cairo has had its share of bad luck and bad timing.
On the other side of the road, people washed cars and mowed lawns, going about their daily chores.The motel represented the experience in one building.One side was falling apart and the other side is occupied and served by the Nu-Diner.
Half alive/Half dead – an accurate metaphor for Cairo.
Continuing down the road, passing Shemwell’s Barbecue, a Family Dollar store, and a closed thrift store, I was disappointed.It looked like Main Street America on every highway in the country.
One block, two blocks toward the river and we found ourselves on an empty movie set on which no one filmed.
I was stunned.In my planning, I had looked at photos on many blogs, but even those from earlier in 2012 are no longer current.
More buildings leveled or collapsed and not a soul on the street but for a blue van parked in front of the Maytag shop. A television commercial come to life.
The workmanship and details on the remains is breath-taking.Many of the buildings ornamented in metal details and intricate brickwork stand open.Entering as quietly a hiking boots on crunching glass will allow, you try to listen for their stories but the silence is frightening.A department store, furniture showroom, and movie theater kept their secrets.Layers of brick, paint and plaster exposed when their neighbors succumbed provide some clues to the past.
My friend and I wandered, stepping carefully over glass shards , metal fragments and listening carefully. Several trucks passed and we waved and smiled trying to look friendly. They paid no attention, having seen so many photographers before that we were invisible.
Several hours passed in minutes. Sensory overload , heat and a pervasive sense of sadness took over.The logical questions haunted us. How could this happen? What can be done to help? Is it too late?