Later this month, my first book will be published—a non-fiction tome celebrating Cartoon Network’s Emmy-winning miniseries, Art of Over the Garden Wall. In researching the project, I spent more than an accumulative 24 hours on the phone with the show’s creator, Patrick McHale. He said many, many memorable things, but one quote was branded permanently on my hippocampus. Early in our talks, I asked him why he temporarily moved from Los Angeles to Concord, Massachusetts while he was an undergrad student, studying animation at CalArts. One place was a thriving, neon-streaked metropolis of artistic ambition; the other was a colonial hamlet steeped in quiet history and endless farmland. He replied, “there weren’t enough ghosts in L.A.”
I didn’t understand Pat’s sentiment at the time. He could have been speaking literally—we both have stories about inexplicable encounters with the mortally-challenged. I only understood his words after I moved to Portland from Columbus, Ohio three months ago.
Portland’s one hell of a locale, but it’s not quiet. Constant construction, constant people, constant noise erects a perpetual buffer between a place’s history and the people who live there. There’s no living museum silently channeling the hum of decades in the subconscious lull. The city welcomed nearly 411,000 folks from ’14 to ’15 and now holds approximately 2.5 million people within its 145 square miles. Columbus, Ohio and my favorite neighborhood, Clintonville, could well be on its way to a development blitz of this magnitude, but it’s not there yet. Houses etched with time and dry walls, built at the turn of the 20th century, line its streets, leaving brick cul-de-sacs to the outlying suburbs. It’s a weird, haunted place. Tales of an insidious, malodorous (no joke) witch still rise in conversation, her cackle ingrained in Walhalla Ravine. It’s quiet and striking after midnight, a concrete book hiding the stories of countless residents in its streets.
Three days a week, I’d go on midnight runs through the city. I’d tread in the middle of the streets and it’d be rare to encounter a car. I called it the equivalent of watching your wife sleep, except your wife was your home. My last week in Columbus, instead of running, I wandered around with a camera and tripod, preserving a city breathe in near-perfect black, punctuated by street lights and ambulance sirens. I wanted to capture the ghost of Columbus. Whether I accomplished that or not, those photos lie below. I only wish I’d expanded my radius and shot more, but the pictures also serve as a sister gallery to a portrait series of my favorite people in Columbus.
The Steel Book