Rebecca Litchfield
Rebecca Litchfield

41 Eerie Photos of Abandoned Soviet Buildings

Rebecca Litchfield
Rebecca Litchfield

Rebecca Bathory stepped into her first abandoned building, a Victorian asylum, in 2005. Today she travels the world, taking pictures of broken and forgotten places. For her latest project, she explored the remains of the crumbled Soviet Union and satellite states. The result was the breathtaking collection found in her new book, Soviet Ghosts.

“My aim with the book was to capture the crumbling empire of the former Soviet Union, before it is gone completely. The former USSR was once a thriving place, but with the fall of Communism, buildings now lay derelict, uninhabited, broken shells of a forgotten time. The collapse of the Soviet Union left haunting memories of ordinary people who once lived and worked there.“

"Princess and the Pea" - Russia © Rebecca Bathory

Bathory’s photographs certainly feel like they are inhabited by ghosts. The deteriorating landscape creates an eerie stillness you can feel through the pages.

"Ball Room"- Russia © Rebecca Bathory

"Unsung"- Russia © Rebecca Bathory

Many pictures capture the feeling that everyone disappeared at once. Balls are scattered across a gym floor, lockers and shelves are fully stocked, a jacket and hat hang on a chair. Everywhere, there is evidence of a life long forgotten. These visions provide a stark reminder how abruptly things can end.

Bathory works with a small team of four people, including her husband. She also found locals to help research and locate different areas. The small groups allowed for slipping in and out of buildings quietly and undetected. “The urban explorer motto is 'Leave only footprints, take only photos,'" Bathory explained. "It’s all about respect; respect the building, its history and others who want to take photos of it."

"Waiting Games" - Urkaine© Rebecca Bathory

During one expedition, Russian soldiers apprehended Bathory and her companions. They were taken to a military base nearby where they were questioned and contained for 10 hours.

"Cyrillic" -Bulgaria © Rebecca Bathory

"Freeze" - Bulgaria © Rebecca Bathory

"The Mist" - Bulgaria© Rebecca Bathory

The Buzludzha ideological monument was built in celebration of the Bulgarian Socialist Movement. It took seven years to construct and was finally completed in 1981. It was abandoned after the fall of the USSR. Bathory visited the monument in March 2013. 

“This for me was the most poignant location in the whole journey of Soviet Ghosts. Not only does this photo encapsulate a part of history literally frozen in time, where a Communist empire once thrived. But this photo captures a feeling of desolation and the forgotten, like a memory on a breeze. The mist is ghostly and surreal, which is why I chose it for the cover.”

"Bath House" - Germany© Rebecca Bathory

"Beautiful Dream" - Germany© Rebecca Bathory

"Blue Corridor" - Germany © Rebecca Bathory

"Chemical Reaction" © Rebecca Bathory

"Depart" - Russia© Rebecca Bathory

"DNA" - Estonia © Rebecca Bathory

"Dome" - Germany© Rebecca Bathory

"Live and Learn" - Germany© Rebecca Bathory

"Meeting of Ghosts" - Germany© Rebecca Bathory

"Melancholy Lapse" - Poland © Rebecca Bathory

"Misery" - Czech Republic © Rebecca Bathory

"Operate" - Estonia © Rebecca Bathory

"Out of Tune" - Russia © Rebecca Bathory

"Peace in Pain" - Russia © Rebecca Bathory

"Realm of Dystopia" © Rebecca Bathory

"Red Army" - Germany © Rebecca Bathory

"Room of Ice" - Bulgaria © Rebecca Bathory

"Satellite Centre" - Russia© Rebecca Bathory

"Serenity" - Estonia © Rebecca Bathory

"Skrunda" - Latvia © Rebecca Bathory

"Stained" -Russia © Rebecca Bathory

"Stairway to Heaven" - Germany © Rebecca Bathory

"Steam" - Hungary © Rebecca Bathory

"Take a Seat" - Russia © Rebecca Bathory

"Teplitz" - Germany © Rebecca Bathory

"The Dentist" - Russia © Rebecca Bathory

"The Fall" - Germany © Rebecca Bathory

"The Light at the End" - Latvia © Rebecca Bathory

"The Secret" - Germany © Rebecca Bathory

"The Workout" © Rebecca Bathory

© Rebecca Bathory

"Torpedo" - UK © Rebecca Bathory

"Dissection" - Poland © Rebecca Bathory

Rebecca Bathory is currently working on several new works. Her ongoing project, Underworld, focuses on ethereal models posing in abandoned buildings. It implements mythological and mystic themes with titles like “Semele,” and “Cronus.” She has also recently been awarded a scholarship for a PhD at Roehampton University that will take her around the world to focus on dark tourist spots and the human fascination with the dark and unpleasant. Like her Facebook page here and pre-order her book here. 

The Secret World War II History Hidden in London's Fences

In South London, the remains of the UK’s World War II history are visible in an unlikely place—one that you might pass by regularly and never take a second look at. In a significant number of housing estates, the fences around the perimeter are actually upcycled medical stretchers from the war, as the design podcast 99% Invisible reports.

During the Blitz of 1940 and 1941, the UK’s Air Raid Precautions department worked to protect civilians from the bombings. The organization built 60,000 steel stretchers to carry injured people during attacks. The metal structures were designed to be easy to disinfect in case of a gas attack, but that design ended up making them perfect for reuse after the war.

Many London housing developments at the time had to remove their fences so that the metal could be used in the war effort, and once the war was over, they were looking to replace them. The London County Council came up with a solution that would benefit everyone: They repurposed the excess stretchers that the city no longer needed into residential railings.

You can tell a stretcher railing from a regular fence because of the curves in the poles at the top and bottom of the fence. They’re hand-holds, designed to make it easier to carry it.

Unfortunately, decades of being exposed to the elements have left some of these historic artifacts in poor shape, and some housing estates have removed them due to high levels of degradation. The Stretcher Railing Society is currently working to preserve these heritage pieces of London infrastructure.

As of right now, though, there are plenty of stretchers you can still find on the streets. If you're in the London area, this handy Google map shows where you can find the historic fencing.

[h/t 99% Invisible]

Travel Salem via Flickr // CC BY-ND 2.0
A.C. Gilbert, the Toymaker Who (Actually) Saved Christmas 
Travel Salem via Flickr // CC BY-ND 2.0
Travel Salem via Flickr // CC BY-ND 2.0

Alfred Carlton Gilbert was told he had 15 minutes to convince the United States government not to cancel Christmas.

For hours, he paced the outer hall, awaiting his turn before the Council of National Defense. With him were the tools of his trade: toy submarines, air rifles, and colorful picture books. As government personnel walked by, Gilbert, bashful about his cache of kid things, tried hiding them behind a leather satchel.

Finally, his name was called. It was 1918, the U.S. was embroiled in World War I, and the Council had made an open issue about their deliberation over whether to halt all production of toys indefinitely, turning factories into ammunition centers and even discouraging giving or receiving gifts that holiday season. Instead of toys, they argued, citizens should be spending money on war bonds. Playthings had become inconsequential.

Frantic toymakers persuaded Gilbert, founder of the A.C. Gilbert Company and creator of the popular Erector construction sets, to speak on their behalf. Toys in hand, he faced his own personal firing squad of military generals, policy advisors, and the Secretary of War.

Gilbert held up an air rifle and began to talk. What he’d say next would determine the fate of the entire toy industry.

Even if he had never had to testify on behalf of Christmas toys, A.C. Gilbert would still be remembered for living a remarkable life. Born in Oregon in 1884, Gilbert excelled at athletics, once holding the world record for consecutive chin-ups (39) and earning an Olympic gold medal in the pole vault during the 1908 Games. In 1909, he graduated from Yale School of Medicine with designs on remaining in sports as a health advisor.

But medicine wasn’t where Gilbert found his passion. A lifelong performer of magic, he set his sights on opening a business selling illusionist kits. The Mysto Manufacturing Company didn’t last long, but it proved to Gilbert that he had what it took to own and operate a small shingle. In 1916, three years after introducing the Erector sets, he renamed Mysto the A.C. Gilbert Company.

Erector was a big hit in the burgeoning American toy market, which had typically been fueled by imported toys from Germany. Kids could take the steel beams and make scaffolding, bridges, and other small-development projects. With the toy flying off shelves, Gilbert’s factory in New Haven, Connecticut grew so prosperous that he could afford to offer his employees benefits that were uncommon at the time, like maternity leave and partial medical insurance.

Gilbert’s reputation for being fair and level-headed led the growing toy industry to elect him their president for the newly created Toy Manufacturers of America, an assignment he readily accepted. But almost immediately, his position became something other than ceremonial: His peers began to grow concerned about the country’s involvement in the war and the growing belief that toys were a dispensable effort.

President Woodrow Wilson had appointed a Council of National Defense to debate these kinds of matters. The men were so preoccupied with the consequences of the U.S. marching into a European conflict that something as trivial as a pull-string toy or chemistry set seemed almost insulting to contemplate. Several toy companies agreed to convert to munitions factories, as did Gilbert. But when the Council began discussing a blanket prohibition on toymaking and even gift-giving, Gilbert was given an opportunity to defend his industry.

Before Gilbert was allowed into the Council’s chambers, a Naval guard inspected each toy for any sign of sabotage. Satisfied, he allowed Gilbert in. Among the officials sitting opposite him were Secretary of War Newton Baker and Secretary of the Navy Josephus Daniels.

“The greatest influences in the life of a boy are his toys,” Gilbert said. “Yet through the toys American manufacturers are turning out, he gets both fun and an education. The American boy is a genuine boy and wants genuine toys."

He drew an air rifle, showing the committee members how a child wielding less-than-lethal weapons could make for a better marksman when he was old enough to become a soldier. He insisted construction toys—like the A.C. Gilbert Erector Set—fostered creative thinking. He told the men that toys provided a valuable escape from the horror stories coming out of combat.

Armed with play objects, a boy’s life could be directed toward “construction, not destruction,” Gilbert said.

Gilbert then laid out his toys for the board to examine. Secretary Daniels grew absorbed with a toy submarine, marveling at the detail and asking Gilbert if it could be bought anywhere in the country. Other officials examined children’s books; one began pushing a train around the table.

The word didn’t come immediately, but the expressions on the faces of the officials told the story: Gilbert had won them over. There would be no toy or gift embargo that year.

Naturally, Gilbert still devoted his work floors to the production efforts for both the first and second world wars. By the 1950s, the A.C. Gilbert Company was dominating the toy business with products that demanded kids be engaged and attentive. Notoriously, he issued a U-238 Atomic Energy Lab, which came complete with four types of uranium ore. “Completely safe and harmless!” the box promised. A Geiger counter was included. At $50 each, Gilbert lost money on it, though his decision to produce it would earn him a certain infamy in toy circles.

“It was not suitable for the same age groups as our simpler chemistry and microscope sets, for instance,” he once said, “and you could not manufacture such a thing as a beginner’s atomic energy lab.”

Gilbert’s company reached an astounding $20 million in sales in 1953. By the mid-1960s, just a few years after Gilbert's death in 1961, it was gone, driven out of business by the apathy of new investors. No one, it seemed, had quite the same passion for play as Gilbert, who had spent over half a century providing fun and educational fare that kids were ecstatic to see under their trees.

When news of the Council’s 1918 decision reached the media, The Boston Globe's front page copy summed up Gilbert’s contribution perfectly: “The Man Who Saved Christmas.”


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