I was in high school the first time I heard the tale of haunted School Number Four, one of the first schools in Jacksonville, Florida's long, eclectic history and formerly known as Riverside Park School, then Annie Lytle Elementary School before its doors closed in the 1960s. It was condemned in the 1970s. Some say a basement boiler exploded, killing helpless students and teachers, and their unsettled spirits now haunt the grounds. Others said the basement was a portal to hell! (It's sometimes called "The Devil's School"!)
All of the stories are merely local legend, but it didn't stop my classmates from staging break-ins in search of the supernatural. I went with a group of friends one night years back, but all entrances were barred. As a vintage seller and history lover I am enamored by the gorgeous building minutes away from my apartment and finally ignored the No-Trespassing signs and threatening graffiti tags to get shots of the inside.
I snuck in around back and parked a little ways from the building to avoid suspicion. Right when I was about step out of my car a patrolling police officer in a small white go-cart zoomed around the building, when he was out of sight I ventured within the foreboding chain link fence to examine the decaying exterior.
The architecture is beautiful, it's amazing to witness all the supplies and details that went into making our Nation's earlier schools. You rarely see character like this in newer buildings. The white columns are striking.
The vines and ferns are lush, nature's reclaiming its territory. The tagging adds more texture to the haunting beauty of the building. A slim black cat darted inside a hole on the side of the building right before I snapped this shot. I love exploring areas like this, pensive quiet places to contemplate humanity's place in the universe. When we're gone, plants and animals will thrive without our meddling intervention.
I didn't intend to fully go inside but the peeks inside from the exterior were so enticing, I thought I might have to scale one of these windows.
Luckily I found another entrance. This door was boarded up the last time I drove by. The board had "THIS SCHOOL IS NOT HAUNTED" written boldly across the front, perhaps written by property owners tired of us meddling kids sneaking inside to seek ghosts, demons, and thrills.
The first look within. Brick walls, the raw industrial aesthetic and urban decay recalled the original Nightmare of Elm Street with a mix of Candy Man and more recently, the gorgeous Last of Us video game. I was a little wary of going further alone and encountering a violent vagrant but I was at least armed with...my tripod; could wield it like a club and bash someone! I kept exploring.
I loved thinking of what the school must have been like it when it in session, will our high schools end up like this someday?
Under my feet at some parts were the original rotting floor boards, and others just the foundation where plant seeds took root.
The graffiti was just as interesting as the old building its self, juxtaposed beautifully against the texture of wood, stone, and brick, adding color to the now "lifeless" building.
The classrooms were scattered with debris, broken glass, wood, beer and liquor bottles. I wanted to explore every room and corridor but that was too risky. The large holes at the bottom of the floor, are those vents? Anyone else immediately think of movies and video games where you have to crawl through similar ones to survive? Any time you try you encounter mutant roaches, killer dogs, and shotgun toting psychos. I watch too many horror movies/games...
No wall was without artwork and tagging. I especially love "Fuck who ever ruined this" in orange at the bottom.
I just love the sight of that original flooring painting a picture of what this school was like in the distant past.
I'm fascinated by the array of trash trespassers left behind, too.
This was in the center of the school, probably a stage where assemblies took place. My research says a fire transients started caused the collapse of the roof.
It's fun to make theories about the various clandestine holes and cubbyholes in the building.
My camera battery was dying and I felt like my luck of not running into a cop or fellow intruder was running out so I didn't explore more of the second floor. I'm still dying to document every inch of this gorgeous building.
A funny note, the front of the second floor is surrounded by the expressway, it's an interesting passage of time, to see what was a place of learning now decrepit with cars zooming past on the highway from the windows. And fun to be inside the place I'd frequently pass on the high way and think, "I need to get in there!"
Could you imagine exploring this place as a teenager at night? I'd still love to come in here for nighttime exploration but you'd need a big group for that.
I left with hundreds of pricklies to pull off my boots and dress and a renewed desire to explore abandoned spaces and tell their story.
Do you have any "haunted" places where you live? Do tell! Would love any ghost town recommendations to explore, too.
Interesting links: A YouTube video of "ghostly voices" recorded in the school and some history and a write-up of the school by Weird US. Reading more online makes me want to go explore the creepy basement, too! But I need back-up for that one!