The better part of my childhood years were burned up with hours of exploring. I abhorred being stuck inside even as a kid and the idea of being trapped in by the back fence when we had one did not exactly thrill me either, so more often than not I was gone into the woods, climbing, hiking, turning over every rock just to see. It is a pattern that has stayed with me to the present, the need to explore, to adventure, to see new things, to learn.
From my childhood to today, the most exciting places to explore are aged or abandoned buildings and since I first began shooting photography I have enjoyed documenting the remnant ruins of the past before they disappear forever. Ghostly, like looking at a decades old photograph, you are immediately transported to another time and place, where everything you are seeing was alive and flush and in its prime. You can imagine the history, the memories, the lives that however briefly touched and were touched by the place in which you stand. Even more so if you are imbued with great imagination, you can picture the finest details, events that may have happened there from where a favorite chair sat to the mundane daily comings and goings of the persons who lived many decades ago, neither famous nor irrelevant, but only having left their mark in their own small way, a scar on history long since faded to hardly visible.
As an adult there is also an element of preservation in my adventures and explorations through my photos, a reverence for what was there before and may not exist past the present moment, for that fleeting moment only seen once before it disappears into the thread of time.
When we made our trip to Turner Falls Park last week, I knew in advance that there was some sort of castle there, but little more than that. However, as soon as we saw it, we raced to explore, climbing the steep staircases, meandering through the labyrinthine rooms, guessing by what evidence still stands what each room served as, trying to picture the home complete and imagining the lovely décor and how grand it would have been, because even in this abandoned and rotting state, rather than drooping and crumbling, the remaining castle stands proud and haughty.
As we ventured through the crumbling structures, the late summer evening conversations of years ago still seemed to echo between the walls and the footfalls of playing children long since grown and passed resonated along the series of steep stairways. Pausing to take in the details of each room and the view from each steppe, it wasn’t difficult to imagine this place as a home, before the parking lot was at the base of the hill, before it became ruins clambering with curious tourists.
Built in the 1930s by former Oklahoma University dean Ellsworth Collings, the castle served as a summer home to the Collings family and friends, situated between two ranches with a stunning view of the Arbuckles and the streams from Turner Falls. Why he built their summer home as a castle like so much else about the structure has been lost with time.
There is a deep sadness in the current state of the castle which since its purchase by the town of Davis has simply been allowed to slowly rot. To see something once so grand, once someone’s source of pride, ruined by the careless indifference of those whom assumed responsibility for it later is heartbreaking. Seeing the graffiti deeply etched in the remaining plaster, litter strewn here and there by careless passers through, fixtures long striped away was deeply saddening. Those walls left standing though are worth exploration for curiosity’s sake and the breathtaking view of the falls from the top of the mountain is worth every step climbed to reach the top, albeit neither completely dulls the sadness of such waste. It can only be hoped that eventually something will be made of the amazing structure.
Read more about Turner Falls and Collings Castle here.