Abandoned Stairs in Wendt, South Dakota

Photo Copyright Alex Benison

Copyright Alex Benison

This week Lost Places goes back to the Dakotas–this time to South Dakota.  This fantastic shot was taken by Denver-based photographer Alex Benison in Wendt, South Dakota.  More of his work can be found at alexbenison.imagekind.com.  Alex found the house during a trip down gravel-strewn Bad River Road in central South Dakota.  The road, a 45-mile stretch between Fort Pierre and Midland, is something of a photographer’s dream.  The stretch includes prairies, waterways, herds of buffalo, and even a ghost town.

The ghost town is Capa, South Dakota, which by all reports was never really that big anyway.  The nearby bison belong to Ted Turner, founder of CNN, and owner of the 141,357-acre ranch.  The ranch features native grassland, rolling hills, and a wide assortment of wildlife, including elk, mountain lions, coyotes, prairie chickens, pheasant, and grouse.

The mouth of the Bad River is historically significant.  It was there that explorers Lewis and Clark encountered the Teton Sioux, a nomadic and warlike branch of the Sioux Nation, led by Chief Black Buffalo.  War and epidemic eventually took its toll on the Teton Sioux–and from the looks of this photograph, time is taking its toll on this house.

Lenin Statue in Kiev, Ukraine


Today we have a statue of a forward-looking Vladimir Lenin by U.K. photographer Stacey Raven.  Raven, whose work can be seen at www.staceyravenphotography.co.uk,  took the photo during a much more peaceful time for Kiev and the Ukrainian people.

The people of Ukraine have had a monumental week.  Violent protests against the government last week led to the deaths of an estimated 77 people as police used live ammunition to quell the protests.  Protests initially broke out in November when Ukranian President Viktor Yanukovych rejected an accord with the European Union.  Protesters wanted closer ties with the western world, while Yanukovych’s government drew closer to Russia and the east.

Last week’s events led to the Ukranian parliament  ousting Yanukovych, the release of opposition leader Yulia Tymoshenko from prison, and the looming threat that Ukraine could break in two along east-west lines.  In many ways, Ukraine is in-between two worlds: a European country that was once part of the Soviet Union.

One of the most potent symbols of the influence of old-school Soviet politics on the country was the statue of Vladimir Lenin, Marxist revolutionary and first Premier of the Soviet Union.  Statues to Lenin were ubiquitous in the Soviet Union, and many statues still exist.  According to The Daily Mail, over 100 monuments to the leader have been toppled as of this writing.  This particular Lenin became a so-called “reclining Lenin” on December 8 of last year.  He also lost his head.  Better monuments losing their heads than people, I suppose.

It’s Always the Quiet Ones: Harold Ramis and the Children of the 80’s

I was surprised to hear of the death of Harold Ramis today at the age of 69 after a long illness.  I took some today to look at Mr. Ramis’ filmography.  I knew he had written such iconic films as “Caddyshack,” “Ghostbusters,” and “Groundhog Day,” but I had never truly stopped and thought about how his body of work impacted me on a personal level until today.

I was born at the beginning of the 1980’s, a decade when the writing talents of Mr. Ramis were in full flower.  By the time I was born, he had already co-written “Meatballs” and “Caddyshack,” as well as made his mark on the television series SCTV.  SCTV not only launched the careers of John Candy, Martin Short, Eugene Levy, and Catherine O’Hara, but influenced future writers such as “Simpsons” creator Matt Groening.  Mr. Ramis’ work became some of my first exposure with cinema and storytelling–and certainly the most compelling to me at an early age.  I was far too young for the Baby Boomer political comedy of “Stripes,” but Mr. Ramis’ later films became important touchstones to my generation.  “National Lampoon’s Vacation” gave us the term “Wally World,” which we applied to big box behemoth Wal-Mart in later years.  “Ghostbusters” was one of the first films that ever resonated with me personally.  Mr. Ramis, who co-wrote the film with Dan Aykroyd, managed to blend comedy and action into a what is at heart a ghost story.  Then, of course, there was the merchandising of Ghostbusters.  The toys were ubiquitous in the toy boxes of my generation, not to mention The Real Ghostbusters cartoon, which ran from 1986-1991.  It may be difficult for early generations to understand, but for my age group, films like “Caddyshack” and “Ghostbusters” might as well have been “The Wizard of Oz” or “Gone with the Wind.”  We never really knew a time when they weren’t a part of the collective American cinema experience.

In 1993, “Groundhog Day” was released, which Mr. Ramis co-wrote with Danny Rubin.  I was just then approaching my angst-fuel teenage years.  I remember watching the film for the first time one evening on cable, alone in my bedroom.  I am not certain if I was actually watching it during a particularly gray patch of Midwestern winters, but the fate of Bill Murray’s character resonated with me.  One man repeating the same day over and over until the end of time–caught in an uncontrollable loop of the same people and places, his actions having no impact on the future.  For an overly-dramatic writer-type with the urge to see the world, the film hit home.  The film didn’t just resonate with me alone, though.  It’s solidified a place in pop culture for the foreseeable future.  The film was selected for preservation by the National Film Preservation Board for preservation in the Library of Congress in 2006.  The term “groundhog day” has entered into the lexicon, too.  The term is used in military circles to describe the monotony that active duty sometimes entails.  The films existential nature has been lauded by Buddhists and Catholics alike.   I won’t dwell too much on it here, but a quick internet search for “groundhog day movie” and “Buddhism,” “Catholicism” or “Christianity” will turn up quite a few interesting articles.

For me, Harold Ramis’ stories were catalysts for some of the most engaging cinematic times of my early life.  They provided a backdrop and language to the way we experienced pop culture and, for me personally, the ways in which I learned to tell stories.  He was a comedic writer whose stature will only grow with time now that he is gone.

Abandoned Car Near Hope, British Columbia

Abandoned Car Near Hope, British Columbia

This week we literally go off the beaten path in British Columbia, Canada, courtesy of Vancouver photographer Don Schuetze.

Don writes: “On a recent visit to Hope, which is where the Fraser Valley hits the mountains, I went for a walk along a trail that used to be part of the Kettle Valley Railway. The walk itself wasn’t very exciting: railway beds tend to be rather straight, but off to the side was this old car. How did it end up here? Was it parked with the thought that they’d get it fixed real soon or did some clown drive it along the tracks and then off into the ditch?”

The Kettle Valley Steam Railway is a heritage railway. Heritage railways are interactive living history railways that carry passengers and preserve specific time periods of the past. The Kettle Valley Steam Railway trains are pulled by a steam locomotive built in 1912. The railway leaves from Praire Valley railway station in Summerland, British Columbia. The Prairie Valley station, formerly part of Canadian Pacific Railway, sat abandoned from 1961 to 1989. Alas, it looks like the preservationists were too late to save the automobile in this week’s photo.

Fortunately for us, Don’s camera caught a glimpse of the past before the weeds take over. I wonder what make and model that car is anyway?

Paul Bunyan in Bangor, Maine

Paul Bunyan Bangor, Maine

This week we travel to the northeastern United States.  This Paul Bunyan in Bangor, Maine.  The fiberglass statue of the legendary lumberjack is 37 feet tall and stands on Main Street of Bangor, a town once known as the lumber capital of the world.  The statue was designed by J. Normand Martin and built by New York-based company Messmoor & Damon in 1959.

The legend of Paul Bunyan is much older.  Bunyan is a legendary giant lumberjack in North American folklore of the mid-19th Century.  He is often seen with his companion Blue Ox “Babe,” who is also gigantic.  It was in the 20th Century, however, when Bunyan’s legend began to grow.  Bunyan’s giant stature and trusty Babe herself were concocted for an advertising campaign for the Red River Lumber Company of California in 1916.

Bangor is one of many U.S. towns that lay claim to being the birthplace of Bunyan–and many of them have erected statues and monuments to the mythic lumberjack.  Oscada, Michigan; Bemidji, Minnesota; Brainerd, Minnesota; Bay City Michigan; Wahoo, Nebraska; Eau Claire, Wisconsin all lay claim to the title.  Kelliher, Minnesota is home to Paul Bunyan Memorial Park, purporting to be Bunyan’s grave.  Rib Mountain in Wisconsin also lays claim to being the lumberjack’s final resting place.

Statues of the lumberjack, both with and without Babe, abound in the U.S.  A brief list includes: Klamath, California along Highway 101, Muncie, Indiana; Portland, Oregon; and the previously mentioned Eau Claire.