Library of Lost Dreams

Dutch, a kind of archaelogist of recent America, takes us through the abandoned Detroit School Book Depository.


This is a building where our deeply-troubled public school system once
stored its supplies, and then one day apparently walked away from it
all, allowing everything to go to waste. The interior has been ravaged
by fires and the supplies that haven’t burned have been subjected to 20
years of Michigan weather. To walk around this building transcends the
sort of typical ruin-fetishism and "sadness" some get from a beautiful
abandoned building. This city’s school district is so impoverished that
students are not allowed to take their textbooks home to do homework,
and many of its administrators are so corrupt that every few months the
newspapers have a field day with their scandals, sweetheart-deals, and
expensive trips made at the expense of a population of children who can
no longer rely on a public education to help lift them from the cycle
of violence and poverty that has made Detroit the most dangerous city
in America. To walk through this ruin, more than any other, I think, is
to obliquely experience the real tragedy of this city; not some
sentimental tragedy of brick and plaster, but one of people.

Pallet after pallet of mid-1980s Houghton-Mifflin textbooks, still unwrapped in their original packaging, seem more telling of our failures than any vacant edifice. The floor is littered with flash cards, workbooks,
art paper, pencils, scissors, maps, deflated footballs and frozen
tennis balls, reel-to-reel tapes. Almost anything you can think of used
in the education of a child during the 1980s is there, much of it
charred or rotted beyond recognition. Mushrooms thrive in the damp ashes of workbooks. Ailanthus altissima, the "ghetto palm" grows in a soil made by thousands of books that have burned, and in the pulp of rotted English Textbooks. Everything of any real value has been
looted. All that’s left is an overwhelming sense of knowledge unlearned
and untapped potential.

More pictures here.


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