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Norwich State Hospital (Preston, CT) | a plea for remembrance

Cafeteria | Norwich State Hospital
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Part of the reason places like Norwich - ruins - are moving is because we know their past is gone, and yet we can still feel it when we view or enter them. The scars of decay and neglect dovetail with remnants of past inhabitants in such a way that these traces become imbued with a significance that far outweighs that associated with their original use. A lesson left up on the chalkboard at an abandoned school has far more emotional meaning to it than one at a school that is still in use precisely because it has been spared erasure by the elements, yet remains as a fragile after-image of the person who wrote it there and the students who viewed it. Like a photograph, which has been observed to by its very nature be a representation of a dead moment, we are seeing an echo of a specific action or presence in the past, but one that has been irreversibly altered and partially lost.

In essence the reason that these remains hold significance is not necessarily in their original value but in their reflection on what traces our own actions will have, and the suddenness with which loss and death can strike us. We see the remains of an old cafeteria such as this one at Norwich State Hospital, and we think of how ordinary and unmarred by failure it must have been at one point, and perhaps what the final days must have been like when the death of the hospital had become a tangible reality. It is impossible not to compare this, even if only subconsciously, with our one present condition, which may seem so stable. Yet, here is the evidence that far greater things than the viewer have passed into dust. I believe that by honoring these places - by visiting them, paying them last respects, and acknowledging and accepting them through photographs if nothing else - we are not so much performing a service for the place itself. After all, unless one attributes some personality or spirit to the inanimate, an abandoned building is just a mass of rotting construction materials and nothing more. Instead, we are continuing a tradition of remembrance that we can only hope will be perpetuated by those who come after us. This, in my opinion, is the true value of these sites and the real importance of photographing them: we are striving to connect with those who came before us and in doing so trying to prevent death from negating that which it claims. Immortality may be a myth, but by holding on to the scattered fragments of those who have come before us, and in attempting not only to spare them from oblivion but to add our own association and thereby the print of our own identity, we are asking - pleading - that the things we do are not in vain either.

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Cafeteria at Norwich State Hospital, Preston CT

Photograph by Matthew Christopher of Abandoned America. If you'd like to learn more about this location, it is a featured chapter in the new Abandoned America book Abandoned America: The Age of Consequences. Signed copies are available through my website, or you can find (unsigned) copies available through Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and many other online booksellers across the globe.


Also in: Norwich State Hospital

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Norwich State Hospital (Preston, CT) | Auditorium Rear
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Norwich State Hospital (Preston, CT) | Auditorium Door
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Norwich State Hospital (Preston, CT) | Snowy Beds
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Norwich State Hospital (Preston, CT) | Dishes
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