Would you believe me if I told you that I lived, for 6 years, less than a block away from an old art deco middle school that was abandoned and shuttered, and never did anything about it?
Its true. Upon the dissolution of a relationship serious enough to share a small space with another human being, I moved home for a couple months and then moved into a large apartment in an old house in Bloomfield, NJ, by myself. The apartment was owned by the family of a friend of mine. I took my 1000 square foot place and turned it into a place that was mine and mine alone. During the time I lived there I had a lot of excellent adventures, both with and without friends, but somehow, I never ventured to the school up the street. I was barely interested. Abandoned places interested me, but I could barely buy groceries- making bail on a trespassing charge was even less interesting to me. It also never occurred to me back then that “regular” people could enter giant abandoned places. My world of abandoned adventures really started and stopped with little houses in the woods.
Years later, while running errands, I found myself in Bloomfield, and I ended up parking within shouting distance of both my old house and Bloomfield Jr. High School.
Bloomfield Junior High School, or South Middle School, was opened in 1939, as a magnet school for the arts. In the front of it, you can see the terms “THEATRE” “MUSIC” and “SPEECH” carved into the walls.
I can’t find much of the history of the school while it was active, but it closed in 1987 and has been shuttered ever since. Much of the interior is gutted, but it still looks very much like the halls of the schools I attended, but fancier, with its glass block entrance ways.
Much of the buildings exterior is covered with greenery, and it was easy to slink in and forget that you are just a mile or so from Newark. When I visited, there was one point where I was surrounded 360 degrees by green lush- a welcome thing, as spring was just beginning and winter kept rearing its head. I found a weak spot, and entrance, and slipped through the boards into what looked like a dark, creepy school.
If the hallway was dark in one direction, it was beyond black in the other direction. All of the windows, save where I got in, were boarded up, some affording a little bit of light through the cracks at the top. I checked out a couple of rooms near to where I entered, promptly got the jim-jams, and left, vowing to return.
Two months later, I took the day off to help a friend- under the condition that she keep me company while checking out an old building. So, off we went, where it was even greener now that it was June.
We wandered the halls for quite some time. Occasionally we’d hear a noise, and I have to wonder if people live in here, being so close to Newark. At this point in my life, I had never run into a squatter before. That would change someday, but not today.
The halls were very, very dark, and there were so many staircases that it was easy to lose track of where you were. There weren’t any desks or chalkboards or remnants of the days when the bells rang clear and crowds bustled in the hall, and we never made it to the gym or the cafeteria. But it was all worth it, once we came upon the auditorium on the second floor- covered in bird shit, with a blinding shaft of light from where the windows were not covered, it was a sight. A few birds were loose in it and their wing-flaps echoed across the stage.
What it must have been like, to be an urban kid, selected to go to this special school, on that stage, in that light, voice booming, during a school performance. Some people go to abandoned buildings hoping to find haunted things, but to me, these kinds of things are the real ghosts- moments that were and aren’t anymore, that we get a quick glimpse of before we blink our eyes and return to the muck and the mud and the smell of mold and bird shit.
My friend started cursing out her camera phone for not focusing on a bird that was crossing back and forth across the auditorium, when I got a sick feeling in the pit of my stomach; I had only seen one way in (short of maybe traversing the boiler rooms in the basement- there were plenty of basement windows to crawl though, and I had no interest in that. Dirty puddles skeeve me out, especially the kind you can’t see that might be as deep as I am tall.) So, I told her we needed to leave. She was insisting on getting a shot of the damn bird that was still flying back and forth, its squawk echoing and adding to the mild panic that was starting to build.
I’d like to say we found our way out right away, that my worries were for nothing. Barring that, I’d like to say we got lost for hours and it was a grand adventure, or at least found the gym, but really we just got lost enough for me to get bitchy at my friend.
Finally we made our way out. It was a pretty rad day, and I had just enough time to pop into another small, but favored, abandoned spot after dropping her off at home.
Over the past few years, there have been several plans to redevelop the building, most recently into urban housing. Nothing has really materialized yet.