Photo Essay

Where the Hallways Echo Silence

You can check out any time you like, but you can never leave

There are places that lurk in our deepest, darkest thoughts where ghosts roam and whispers come from rooms that hold only the remnants of abandonment. These places beckon us to explore their depths and see into their past. One such place captured my attention and led me through the steps to access its heart.

It sits majestic just beyond the woods, the centerpiece to a ghost town. There are about 20 buildings spread over many acres of land. The silence is oppressive as you step up toward the administration building of this compound that once served as a children's developmental center, housing the mentally challenged from Washington D.C. It housed children that had nowhere else to go within a very limited system.

Built in the early 1920s, the facility was considered state-of-the-art. Decades later, the conditions became so poor that eventually law suits and government fines forced the facility to close its doors in 1991. The facility became notorious for reports of poor living conditions, abuse, neglect, molestation and even medical experimentation. Bodies were discovered on the grounds, having been unceremoniously buried.

When approaching the imposing administration building, I am at first awed by the silence and desolation of the property. It is a no-man's land hidden between two highways; a place many don't even know exists.

There are no signs, bars or locks. The building sits silent and open, ready for exploration. Stepping through the front hallway, I am immediately taken aback by the quiet and isolation. The hallways are littered with plaster and a multitude of other detritus from decades of neglect. Each step is magnified by the sound of crunching underfoot.

As I set up my tripod and begin to shoot down the hallways and into the numerous rooms, I occasionally feel the hair on my neck rise and I turn to look behind me. Is that a whisper I heard, a footstep perhaps? I am ever vigilant for the intrusion of others; human or otherwise.

The click of my shutter echoes through the open space. There is a slight breeze that breathes through the open and/or broken windows throughout the building. There are three floors and a basement.

Throughout the rooms are abandoned chairs, desks and medical equipment. There is a dentist's chair, ready for the next patient. There is an X-ray room, with old films and files littering the floor, all too faded to read in the window light. The X-ray machine and table are still in place, fixtures of long ago within the peeling walls.

There is a room that holds a treasure to my photographer's eye. A steel and glass cabinet that looks to have once held medications, its peeling paint and patina hauntingly appealing in the sunlight filtering through the window.

The medications long gone and dispensed to the public by theft, the cabinet remains standing, its drawers open and the glass panes broken out of the doors. The rust and peeling paint are reminders of passing time and nature's elements.

As I venture up to the next floors, I find that the stairs are metal and quite sturdy. As I step onto each new floor, I am faced with an expansive hallway and open doors, rusty and paint-peeled, into numerous rooms. At the end of each hallway, there are double doors leading to what must have been large gathering rooms of some sort.

As I pass by old elevators along the hallway, I am overcome by a strange feeling and find myself not wanting to linger too long at their dark mouths for fear of being swallowed up by the gaping emptiness. Passing them by and gravitating toward each open door along the hall, I encounter a lone roller skate in the hall, artistically lighted with a shaft of sun from the adjacent room. I search for others, perhaps a mate, and find none. I stop to take photographs and review them carefully for any movement, wishing fervently for some sign of the afterlife in a mere roller skate.

I ventured only as far as the bottom of the stair landing in the basement, my boyfriend and partner in exploration venturing further into the dark abyss. Our exploration over, we ventured back up to the entrance and out the door to fresh air and sunlight, shaking the darkness and oppressive abandonment off our shoulders but never out of our minds.

There is something very exciting and eye-opening about exploring such a facility. There is a rollercoaster ride of emotion attached to such places and you cannot help but feel it seeping off the walls and flowing through the air. You cannot help but ponder the lives that once traveled through those empty halls and performed their everyday duties; or in the case of this particular facility, the abuse and neglect they administered against the residents. How many lives did they brush under the table, hoping no one would notice or care for their plight? How many helpless cries were left ignored? Do these helpless children that were left behind or suffered their death at this location reach out even today?

These are the places that house the mysteries and haunting images I seek to photograph and compel me to continue my explorations inside their abandoned walls.

VOTE: Do you like this story?

Tell a friend about this story!

Tell a friend about this story!

  1. or

Hi there!

thought you might like this story!

—The JPG team

11 responses

  • Michele Wambaugh

    Michele Wambaugh (Deleted) said (15 May 2013):

    Fabulous photo essay, Kelly! Bravo!!

  • Donna Mullins

    Donna Mullins (Deleted) gave props (15 May 2013):

    The hair on the back of my neck may never lay down again! What a story! You are quite the photographer AND writer. So glad that you had the opportunity for this adventure,and that you shared it with us! A vote and nomination from me!

  • JPG

    JPG gave props (19 May 2013):

    Congrats on being The Story of the Week!

  • Donna Mullins

    Donna Mullins (Deleted) gave props (19 May 2013):

    WOO HOO!!!!!! Congrats Kelly!

  • Kelly Nichols

    Kelly Nichols said (20 May 2013):

    Yay! Thank you, Donna, for the nomination and everyone for your support!!

  • Joerg Schlagheck

    Joerg Schlagheck gave props (21 May 2013):

    Love it!

  • Sarah Springer

    Sarah Springer (Deleted) gave props (21 May 2013):

    Congrats . Kelly.....most excellent visuals and narrative

  • Bailey Cooper

    Bailey Cooper said (21 May 2013):

    Great images and story telling. Your decoder ring is in the mail. Well done dude.

  • Geoff Plant

    Geoff Plant gave props (22 May 2013):


  • John Linton

    John Linton gave props (23 May 2013):

    Hell YEAH! Rad!

  • John Linton

    John Linton gave props (23 May 2013):

    Congrats on making Story of the Week!

Want to leave a comment? Log in or sign up!