Via Boing Boing, I found these amazing photos of the abandoned Detroit Public Schoolbook Depository. For someone like me who’s obsessed with books (and education), this is especially painful to look at. There is still beauty in the photos, though.

Read the photographer’s blog for a lovely essay about Detroit, past and present:

“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. It is almost impossible not to see all this and make some connection between the needless waste of all these educational supplies and the needless loss of so many lives in this city to poverty and violence, though the reality of why these supplies were never used is unclear. “


Check out Sweet Juniper’s photo stream for more photos of Detroit.

Posted by Gwen Pearson

Entomologist. Educator. Writer. NERD.


  1. Oh, and since I’m writing about michigan today–here’s the info on the MSU employee charged with multiple home invasions.
    A sad story all around.

    And: KKK officer working for Ron Paul Michigan campaign

  2. The photo of the trees rising from the decayed books says so much.

    Of course there is the waste of materials, and the sadness of potential knowledge left ungiven. It’s wasteful on more levels than I can count on an early Sunday. Heck, if the books were not needed, maybe they could have been shipped somewhere where they were needed.

    Yes, those Ailanthus trees are a species that volunteer into the roughest of areas. It’s common name is Tree of Heaven.

  3. It’s easy to be saddened and dismayed at the loss of potential knowledge. But those books were probably out of date. And the knowledge they contained likely still exists in one form or another.

    Equally sad is the waste of space represented by the dilapidated building. Buildings that could have been used for something else, or at least torn down to allow nature to reclaim the territory. Nature seems to be doing an OK job as it is, but would probably have been able to do a better job of it if the ruins weren’t in the way.

    I know a thing or two about wasting space. They’re tearing down a forest, and bulldozing a mountain to make way for the latest wave of box stores just outside my apartment window. Not even half a click down the hill is a perfectly good, mostly empty mall with a sizable parking lot that could either be refactored or rebuilt to address at least some of their needs. In another 10 or 15 years, if somebody doesn’t get a clue and do something with it, it’ll be just another urban wasteland.

  4. When I saw 8 Mile I was struck by the image of barbarians living in the ruins of Rome. The parking lots with cathedral ceilings. The buildings that were works of art.

    I also remember one shot of a neighbourhood that looked out of place in a Haitian slum. If I hadn’t seen that area for myself, I would have thought that they went out of their way to find the worst possible shot of poverty that they could find. While I can’t say with certainty that the shot I saw in 8 Mile was the same place I’d seen in real, the stuff I remember seeing wasn’t on a side street. Though I do remember looking down side streets and seeing half-collapsed houses.

    Detroit is so heartbreaking. But what really shocked me was when my father-in-law mentioned that Flint was a well-to-do city 25 years ago. Having come to Michigan in the mid-90s, I had no sense of history. Detroit’s boom days seemed as distant to me as Bay City’s…my lack of perspective amazes me. But how does something like this happen – how is a building packed full of textbooks simply abandoned? It isn’t like the people fled an advancing army or were evacuated after a nuclear power plant melted down. It’s mind boggling.

  5. […] ruins of Detroit Posted on February 5, 2008 by Ian My comment on a post of Bug Girl’s got really long, so I thought I’d copy it here, with a few more thoughts. She posted a link […]

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