This One Time, 43

This one time I was in the park with my camera, trying to take pictures of the old shut-down museum across the street. It had closed for good maybe seven years prior, having finally slid off the radar of any organization willing to offer it any support. In its earliest days, which were less than a hundred years ago, it had been completely privately funded. As the owning family slid into financial decay, it was more and more funded by public money and grants from various private foundations. And as that money started to dry up, the hours the museum was open scaled back to two or three days per week, then only during the school year, then only during the summer, then just Tuesdays, then by appointment only.

It’s still open by appointment only, but now mostly to real estate agents and property investors.

My visit was ostensibly on behalf of the Historical Preservation Society, but the charter really only covered buildings and properties and other items of interest that were over 120 years old. This building was five years outside the charter and unlikely to survive those five years until it could officially be considered. Also, it was right on the park and in deadly danger of being turned into luxury residential. You know. If the market were to start recovering at all.

I was basically just here with my camera. If the building wasn’t here in five years, I’d have thorough documentation of its final state, and maybe the HPS would endorse a book deal for me and sell it through their website. Or maybe I could broker its use for movie sets or stuff like that, since I was still in good with the direction department at the university. Or maybe I’d just get some nifty atmospheric pictures of a dilapidated museum.

I started with copies of the building plans. It was a huge place, an old manor gone metastatic, with new wings and additions and outbuildings and extensive grounds, much of which had already been bought by the city and incorporated into the park. The way I was going to keep track of where the pictures were taken was simple. I numbered each room on the multifloor plans with its own number, and then, carrying the plans with me so I wouldn’t get confused, I would jot down in a little notepad what time I entered which room, using the built-in clock in the camera which would also be putting the timestamps on the filenames for every shot. Then, after dumping the files to my computer, I could just make a folder for each room and drag the files into the room/location folders by their timestamps.

You can probably guess by the amount of detail I just went into that there were some issues with that system. And you’re right. And I’ll get to it.

The reason it’s a big deal is that I’m really not a very organized person. Anytime I go out, I have to dump out any of five or six purses and go through the debris to make sure I have everything with me I think I’ll need for the day. And somehow I still screw that up. I meticulously put appointments into my phone’s calendar thing and then lose my phone for three days. But I thought of everything that could go wrong and armored myself against it.

I made copies of my labeled sets of the floor plans, making sure none of the numbers were duplicated — every room got a number based on the floor, and I never got confused which floor was which. I put the copies in a folder in my filing cabinet and carried the originals in my camera bag. Before I started shooting, I made sure the clocks on my camera and my watch and the one on my cell phone all agreed — just in case I screwed up and checked my watch or my phone instead of the camera to jot down the time. And I was proud of myself for coming up with all this and for being so careful.

And nothing went overtly wrong. I had spare memory cards and spare batteries and all of that stuff and didn’t need any of it.

The problem was that when I got home and downloaded the pictures — starting with keeping them in one huge bunch, just to flip through and spot check for lighting issues and such — maybe three quarters of them didn’t look very familiar at all.

I mean, there were five floors in total, including the basement. Many of the rooms were decorated in different themes, depending on the collection being displayed, and some of them were just different because that’s how the rooms were decorated when the manor was still in use and no one thought anything needed changing or updating when it was converted over. And there were still rooms set up to be lived in, by a curator or docent or security or whatever enticements the place could use to keep someone on site so it wouldn’t get broken into. And I documented everything, whether it was officially a part of the museum or not.

I can play the walkthrough back in my head, just looking at the plans. You know. Mostly. But I can’t help the evidence that was in front of me. The camera totally saw different things than what I had seen. I don’t know how else to put it.

I went ahead and dragged the shots into the folders they were supposed to go into according to their timestamps. And I used that to try to make sense of the shots. And it was no use. Some shots matched up, but some showed extra nooks and crannies. Inconsistencies in wallpapers, in paint, in theme of decor, in what was being displayed. Missing windows. Extra windows, even, with peeks of unfamiliar (if not downright impossible) scenery outside, beyond the draperies and window treatments. Not a lot of museums let sunlight inside to fade things or otherwise degrade materials on display, but even so, what little outside views I saw were strange and unfamiliar. Rooftops of buildings that were certainly too far away. Tree limbs visible through windows that were taller than the trees in the yard. And that wasn’t the worst of it.

I’ve been going over these pictures for weeks now, off and on, when I can stand it. And if anything it gets worse instead of better. Shots I thought I could place slip away from me. And every couple of days I get a call from the museum rep, asking for copies of the shots so they can forward them along to their insurance company in hopes of better documenting what they have and either improving coverage or cheapening premiums. And I keep stalling, just in case I can make sense of everything before I bundle it all up and send it over.

I’m terrified it will all just slip away from me.


February 12, 2011 · by xalieri · Posted in This One Time  


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