Yesterday was Worldwide Instameet Day. In fact, it was the eleventh worldwide meetup encouraged by the folks at Instagram, a social media company focused on photo sharing. I attended my first one of these last month on a cold, blustery day in Tulsa (which I wrote about here.) This time, there were two meets going on in Oklahoma simultaneously: one at the botanical gardens in OKC and one in Guthrie. Not only do I adore our original state capital, but my friends Maggie and Nic had never been to Guthrie before. It was a no-brainer.
We crossed the city limits of Guthrie, Oklahoma at about 2:30 PM & had half an hour or so before the Instameet officially started. I had a spot marked on my map that I wanted to see, so the three of us stopped at the Beacon Drive-In before heading into the historic downtown district. I love old drive-in theaters, and the Beacon is one I’d missed the few times I had come to Guthrie previously. Old window speakers were mounted all around the lot playing music for the folks that put a flea market on that day, which was just winding down. The three of us wandered around the old theater grounds, taking photos and appreciating this cinematic relic. For my money, the Admiral Twin in Tulsa has more character, but I was happy to see that the Beacon was well-kept and evidently still loved by the town.
When we DID arrive downtown, I was super eager to show my friends around. They marveled at the Victorian architecture and bounty of historical markers as we walked around the south part of downtown. They were as enamored with the old State Capitol building as I have been since I first saw it two years ago. Later that night, Nic would tell me that Guthrie might just be the most beautiful town in Oklahoma…and I agree with that. We all felt pretty energized to explore more of the town as we arrived at a nondescript brick building at the end of Harrison Street, next to the train tracks. I wasn’t sure we were at the right place until a guy emerged from a doorway and welcomed us. It turned out that the organizer of the meet had a photo studio there; as we waited for everyone to arrive, we got to explore the space and the area around the building, which included a few trains passing by outside. After what felt like an eternity for my itchy camera trigger finger, we set off to our first destination: a nearby abandoned grain elevator.
Our group of 20 must’ve spent about an hour wandering in and around the grounds of this abandoned site, which did make me somewhat nervous. I don’t do well in such environments, even though I was told this was a small town and it wasn’t a big deal. At one point, when people were trekking through the interior of the main facility, I went outside to clear my mind. I looked up and noticed that one of the guys was climbing the ladder all the way up to the elevator head. Since there was nothing I could do about it (which was actually a bit of a liberating realization) I just stood there and snapped my camera. After a few MORE minutes, I decided I was wasting the time I had with this group and started wandering around the back of the complex…and I’m really glad I did. There was an overgrown train track back there, next to a storage building with a lot of colorful graffiti and broken windows. It wasn’t as complicated as the main building and I was much more comfortable exploring there, all the while chatting to others in the group and watching them work. Once we had exhausted the elevator and silo complex, it was time for our next destination: The Island.
Cottonwood Creek snakes through Guthrie just west of downtown; there’s a crook in it just on the west side of the railroad tracks known as ‘The Elbow’. When that area was annexed into the town proper, it became an all-black community; even though it flooded regularly, it remained inhabited until the 1970s. At that time, the city declared the area unfit for living due to the frequent flooding, condemned the entire neighborhood, and moved everyone out. What remains is a ghost town of about half-a-dozen buildings in the tall trees & weeds, peppered with the remains that the final residents left behind. It’s inaccessible by traditional means; our group ended up crossing the creek by traversing a natural dam created by fallen trees and branches. Nobody fell into the creek, thank goodness, and we hiked through the woods to explore what remained on The Island.
There were several abandoned houses, all with their own charm and character. I was struck by how many household items were still around; remains of televisions, kitchen appliances, dishes, even toys. It felt like I was in the middle of some post-apocalyptic movie, having to piece together some horrible disaster I had somehow missed out on. I wasn’t brave enough (is brave the right word?) to explore inside the dilapidated houses, but I found plenty of things to capture from the outside. The sun hadn’t quite broken through the cloud cover, so everything had a slightly mystical quality, combined with the bare trees and fresh green undergrowth of spring. We continued wandering through The Island and came to a pink stone building that had once been a church. This was my favorite site of the day. You could still make out a few pointed windows on the corner, but the shell was barely intact over most of the foundation. There was a staircase that lead to a doorway that no longer existed. This was the only place where I found a little pavement among the grass; everywhere else it had been completely reclaimed by nature.
As the daylight began to fade, our group realized we did not want to try to cross the treacherous logjam back to civilization in the dark. We trekked back through an area that was once a road; looking up, I could see the bend in the trees that still formed a path through this long-abandoned area. We made it back to our cars safely and met for dinner to talk about our journey. Like the last Instameet, it was great to hear how everyone else experienced the events of the day and share in the photos we had all taken. I am constantly amazed at how differently people can perceive an identical situation. Although we didn’t get to explore the downtown district more, we all felt the day was a huge success. I didn’t get home until after 11:00 PM, and I was tired as all get-out. But it was worth it; very much worth it. I learned a lot, saw some things I wouldn’t have been able to see otherwise, and spent quality time meeting new people and enjoying the company of old friends. I hope we do another one of these soon!