Friday, April 23, 2010


Ghost Town.

A pair of words that set my young imagination on fire. The same thing happened the first time I heard the words Motor Bike. And Keg Party.

But Ghost Town struck early. It still gives me a spark to think about.

I learned about ghost towns during those boyhood years when I was a cowboy for three consecutive Halloweens. I imagined pushing open swinging doors to empty bar rooms with dust covered player pianos and half bottles of whiskey. Snooping around the Sheriff's office. Nobody around to tell you what, and what not, to do.

I wanted to break bottles. And go through the stuff people left behind.

The first real ghost town I ever heard about was Times Beach, Missouri. My parents told me about it every time we drove West on 44 on our way to a float trip, or my fake uncle Fred's house. Between Fenton and Eureka, Times Beach was a not very interesting community that was abandoned after some sheisty goofball sprayed large amounts of the toxic chemical, Dioxin, on the town's gravel roads to keep the dust down.

Everybody moved out. Cancers developed. The houses got plowed. By the time I came around there was nothing left to see. Just Meremec river flood planes. For me one of the requirements of a ghost town is that it resemble a town.

The second ghost town in my life was on a cliff in the Rocky Mountains. It exceeded my expectations. It was a mining town that was abandoned after the water supply got contaminated. My buddy, the comedic, meteorologicaly-untrained weatherman who interviewed people in lift lines for Good Morning Vail, brought me there.

We didn't even have to climb a fence. Just duck under a barrier. There were still dishes in the cabinets. Unbroken windows. An old fire truck in the Fire Station. We rolled a sealed 55 gallon drum off a hundred foot cliff. The perfect old west ghost town.

One day, back in St. Louis, Cole and I were exploring North County in the Death Wagon. We got off 170 North at the Scudder road exit and found our local ghost town.

Stay right off the exit, make a left on Scudder road and you are greeted by rolling green hills peppered with vast piles of concrete. Adolescent trees bursting through roadways. A ghost town by the airport.

The lost colony of Kinloch.

Driving the few roads not blocked by highway dividers it gradually becomes apparent that Kinloch is not actually a ghost town. The residents are not all dead or gone. A fearless few remain, living in a vegetative state.

Rich with history, brimming with illegally dumped garbage, and mostly forgotten, Kinloch refuses to have its plug pulled. Mostly there is empty space and piles of the stuff that used be houses. But few and far between are houses where people live.

Fantastically failed suburbs look almost rural. Nobody around to tell you what, and what not, to do. Wide open spaces. Big gardens. Loud music. Shooting guns. By the airport.

Kinloch maintains a functioning fire department. Though the evidence leads me to believe that the Kinloch Fire Department is not known for its quick reaction time.

Fire is cheaper than a bulldozer and a dump truck.


Gena Brady Allen said...

Anonymous said...

I have often wondered why people abandoned Kinloch. In the 1950's I when to kindergarten there and lived near by in Berkeley. Perhaps the airport bought it out? And that garden that can be seen from hwy 170 is amazing. They hand carry their water!! Very impressive.

Ashley H. said...

Lee, I really want to get up there someday with you. I've been waiting for an opportunity to take this trip for months. Let's go!

Abigail Baum said...

I too am facinated by Ghost Towns and dilapidated cities. I am currently getting my MSW and have been working on a community development project in Kinloch for one of my classes. The history of Kinloch is such that it was born out of segregation and discrimination as the first all African American city in Missouri. At its height it was a vibrant community of nearly 7000 residents and had a school district, city hall, post office, and business district. In the 1980s, St. Louis County used noise abatement legislation to purchase large tracts of land in Kinloch for a proposed airport expansion. The resulting displacement of over 75 percent of the population in a few short years caused Kinloch to fall into crisis. Today, I think the major hurtle to revitalization is physical and social isolation. Outsiders are dimly aware of Kinloch’s existence and history, and Kinloch residents have internalized that neglect.
I realize that was a really long response, but I hope that answers some lingering questions of this particular Ghost Town's past and present.