Certain parts of the U.S. have teetered into decline. Places designed to bring joy are now rotting quietly, wrapped in weeds. Seph Lawless, an artist and chronicler of all things ruin-related, recently visited several of these abandoned amusement parks. He returned with some pretty creepy pictures. We’ve got a gallery.
Over the years, we’ve seen plenty of American ruin porn—so much that the genre borders on cliché. We get it. Everyone fled Detroit, and its once bombastic grandeur now lies in tatters. Old sports stadiums have turned to trash heaps and historic sites are being lost to the twisted economics of real estate. Don’t even get me started on abandoned malls.
But the photographs taken by Lawless tell this larger story in a uniquely poignant way. His work is not just about gawking at individual sites of decaying buildings but rather striving to encapsulate the larger story of America’s rise and fall. That’s why he didn’t just visit one abandoned amusement park for his latest book Bizarro. In the artist’s own words, “This project showcases America’s economic decline that rips into heart and soul of our country.”
For Bizarro, Lawless tracked down as many as he could find in the United States and even traveled abroad for some perspective. The story the photos tell isn’t just one of abandonment; it’s also a chronicle of disaster and rebirth.
These photos from the Six Flags in New Orleans, which was deserted after Hurricane Katrina, express the sentiment well. The paint on the rides and buildings is still bright enough that you could imagine riding one of the rollercoasters ...
Or hopping in a bumper car.
However, the abandoned Six Flags is so far gone, that there are now live alligators living in the pools around the park:
All that remains is destruction and decay.
Lawless also chose the timing of his photoshoots very deliberately. “I chose to shoot the images at sunset and thunderstorms because I wanted to do something really special with this project,” Lawless told Gizmodo. “I thought a good way to truly bring about that eerie feeling of an abandoned amusement park was to shoot it at sunset and during thunderstorms.”
This feeling is perhaps best captured at Joyland, an abandoned amusement park in Kansas. One of the storm cells that Lawless captured in his photographs later turned into 18 tornadoes that ripped through Oklahoma.
Not that the scene at Joyland wasn’t already awfully dark.
Still not creepy enough for you? Check out this image from an abandoned Wizard of Oz theme park in North Carolina. It’s located near the highest peaks in the Eastern United States, so the thin air and unique foliage add to the allure. Plus, as Lawless explains, there is no easy escape: “The abandoned Land of Oz theme park was only accessible by ski lift at the time of its opening so it was a challenge on a lot of levels.”
From here, the series gets even bleaker. The roller coasters at Geauga Lake amusement park in Ohio are still intact, and you can almost hear the screams:
It’s actually spookier when viewed from the tracks themselves.
Meanwhile, Funtime amusement park and zoo doesn’t look very fun at all.
All of the above parks still seem to be winning the war against nature. However, in older parks, the trees are closing in and the weeds are engulfing the old rides. The remains of this spinning swing in West Virginia’s Shawnee amusement park will disappear in a few years.
It seems like some sort of miracle that the Ferris Wheel at Chipewa Lake in Ohio is still standing.
Inevitably, Lawless hoped to put the American condition in perspective by visiting Spreepark, the infamously abandoned theme park in the middle of Berlin. Lawless told me that he was arrested for photographing the ruins there. As police dragged him away, he snuck one last shot of Spreepark’s own dilapidated Ferris Wheel.
When he was being handcuffed, Lawless said that police kept yelling, “Americans are arrogant!” And maybe that’s the point.
All images by Seph Lawless
Seph Lawless is the pseudonym of an American artist and activist. Order his new book Bizarro here. His first book Autopsy of America (2013) chronicled the devastation of globalization on American cities, and he continues to explore these topics. His personal websites can be found here. You can like his Facebook page here and follow him on Instagram here and follow him on Twitter here.