Scattered across the United States is a network of mysterious concrete arrows. They are often found in remote locations or areas difficult to access. Some will be accompanied by a small shack, a few have a metal tower affixed to their base. Many are in good condition while others have succumbed to nature. The shape and direction of the arrows vary, but it is clear they served the same purpose.
The purpose was important: helping early pilots navigate U.S. transcontinental flights at night.
In a era before radar, pilots used ground-based landmarks for guidance. This solution worked for flight during the day, but grounded pilots at night. Before long, a system of beacons was established across the United States to guide airmail pilots around-the-clock. When radar and radio communications made the beacons obsolete years later, most were torn down and abandoned.
Tales of gold rushes and silver booms are often recounted from a nostalgic perspective, driven by tall tales of adventures into the lawless Wild West. Perhaps less sentimental is the story of copper, a metal with less value but more significance to the growth of infrastructure. Copper was a major component of industrialization and essential for everything from electrifying the world to fortifying nations during war.
Few mining operations could match the lifetime output of the Anaconda Copper Mine in Butte, Montana. For nearly a century, mining in Butte Valley sacrificed the earth to build and defend America. Today the legacy of Anaconda’s enterprise is the Berkeley Pit, a large open pit mine collecting billions of gallons of toxic groundwater.
Extending from the west coast of Africa is Ras Nouadhibou, a small peninsula shared by Mauritania and Western Sahara. The east side of the peninsula belongs to Mauritania and is home to Nouadhibou, a city of nearly 100,000 residents and the second-largest settlement in the country. The region’s economic capital, Nouadhibou holds less illustrious titles as well: it is also home to the largest ship graveyard in the world.
Financial hardships led to authorities turning a blind eye to ship owners who offered bribes to dump used vessels in the harbor. After nearly three decades of this practice, Nouadhibou’s coastline is a unique landscape of over 300 rotting ships.
When Count Mario Bagno purchased a large amount of land in the remote northern hills of Italy fifty years ago, he envisioned building a Las Vegas-style adult playground with bars, casinos, and dance clubs. The resort town of Consonno, nestled in the hills of Brianza not far from Lecco, was intended to be the premiere weekend getaway for the well-heeled of Milan.
But delays would force the resort to open before it was completed and Consonno never enjoyed the success Bagno envisioned. The clock struck midnight for his City of Toys when a 1976 landslide destroyed the only road into town. Today, the long-abandoned Città dei Balocchi sits vandalized and forgotten.
The Horace Mann School of Gary, Indiana is on the short list of American high schools that have graduated more than 75 classes of students. A creation of innovative educator William Wirt, the unique school took seven years to build and was finished in 1928. The campus set a new standard for the area’s public schools by featuring landscaped rolling hills, multiple gyms and pools, and even a man-made pond.
Horace Mann’s fortunes would ebb and flow with those of Gary; when the city’s population declined so did enrollment at the school. In 2004 the school board voted to shutter the building, and nine years later the ailing building still stands vacant and crumbling. Is the school’s rich history enough to secure its future?
Perhaps one of the most iconic abandoned structures in Gary, City United Methodist Church was once the pride of the community. Built in 1925, the classic Gothic edifice was the result of an ambitious priest backed by U.S. Steel dollars. But the huge structure would burden the church with enormous maintenance costs for decades, and when Gary’s population declined in the 1960s and 70s the church struggled to make ends meet.
When the parishioners left town, so too did the dollars. Now one of the most photographed churches in Indiana, City United Methodist sits exposed and crumbling since it was abandoned nearly forty years ago.