These photographs were taken inside the abandoned wreck of The Apollo Tannery, a business that went bankrupt in 1998 then subsequently sat derelict for seven years in a residential neighborhood of Camden, Maine. Finally buckling under citizen pressure, the town council voted to spend almost three quarters of a million dollars for a dismantling and environmental cleanup of 3.5 acres of salvageable old wood, other building materials and toxic chemicals, including asbestos and vestigial amounts of chromium used in the old tanning processes. There was rich history in this structure, beginning as a post and beam textile mill in 1868 before expanding and converting into a tannery in 1950, a ground-up operation the details of which I found both endlessly fascinating and slightly gruesome.
Time and time again I found myself somehow standing within the Tannery's precincts as if summoned, lurking for hours in a transcendent haze of fascination. On one such visit I noticed that, while the whole sprawling morass of buildings sat not far off a fairly busy street, it appeared to be all but invisible to passersby, who rarely acknowledged its existence with even a brief glance. After several days of haunting the grounds, I knew the time had come to find a way past the boards and chains that were practically garrotting the structure before its demolition could occur. I was certain the place wasn't empty. What might be waiting for me inside I couldn't begin to guess.
On a late Sunday afternoon in the summer of 2005, I gathered my courage and went down the rabbit hole. What I found inside the Tannery was a world of wonders: silent, hulking machines whose purpose I couldn't fathom; hides in varying stages of decay flung everywhere; wood knees of a magnificent size rarely seen anymore; documents dating back to the early 1900's, drowning in a kind of primordial goo at the bottom of frail old trunks barely hanging on a hinge; bottles, cans, and food wrappers of all ages from those scofflaws who had been there before me doing god knows what....and a smell I will carry as a powerful olfactory memory for the rest of my life: part mold, rot, mildew and part something darkly undefinable. Far from rancorous, this singular odor seemed fresh and wonderful to me. But more compelling than the mechanical detritus were the indelible marks of all who had worked in this place over the years. The human reverb was strong.
Walking through, I felt that I'd stumbled upon a hidden door in my own head and found things exactly as I hoped they'd be on the other side. It was as if I had simultaneously authored and discovered a history I could appropriate as my own, for those spiraling hours I spent inside - the documentor and referent, both. And while the floors were practically collapsing under me, I never for a moment thought myself in any danger; it simply felt right to be there, absorbing and paying tribute to a bygone industry and ethos, and receiving something immeasurable in the process.
The Apollo Tannery was dismantled almost a month after my visit, and watching it come down piece by piece - folding in on itself in an improbable, almost absurdly delicate fashion - was an intensely thought-provoking experience in itself. But as connected to both the crumbling structure and its elusive human history as I came to feel, I did not regret its passing.
Yet....it haunts me nonetheless, as if it were possessed with regret, instead of me.