Monday, December 17, 2012


Abandoned House, Crocheron, Maryland

On my occasional jaunts to a remote peninsula of Maryland's Eastern Shore, I am always fascinated by the abandoned houses I discover.  Often, I stop and poke around these old places—as I did recently with the house in this photo—hoping to find clues to what kind of people lived there, how they lived, and what caused them to suddenly abandon the place they once called home.  As the poet Ted Kooser reminds us in the poem below, abandoned houses have stories to tell us, not only about their prior inhabitants, but also about the transient nature of our own lives.

by Ted Kooser

                                 He was a big man, says the size of his shoes
                                 on a pile of broken dishes by the house;
                                 a tall man too, says the length of the bed 
                                 in an upstairs room; and a good, God-fearing man,
                                 says the Bible with a broken back
                                 on the floor below the window, dusty with sun;
                                 but not a man for farming, say the fields
                                 cluttered with boulders and the leaky barn.

                                A woman lived with him, says the bedroom wall
                                papered with lilacs and the kitchen shelves
                                covered with oilcloth, and they had a child,
                                says the sandbox made from a tractor tire.
                                Money was scarce, say the jars of plum preserves
                                and canned tomatoes sealed in the cellar hole.
                                And the winters cold, say the rags in the window frames.
                                It was lonely here, says the narrow country road.

                                Something went wrong, says the empty house
                                in the weed-choked yard.  Stones in the fields
                                say he was not a farmer; the still-sealed jars
                                in the cellar say she left in a nervous haste.
                                And the child?  Its toys are strewn in the yard
                                like branches after a storm—a rubber cow,
                                a rusty tractor with a broken plow,
                                a doll in overalls.  Something went wrong, they say.

Note:  Ted Kooser served as United States Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress between 2004 and 2006.  During his second term, he also won the Pulitzer Prize for his book of poems, Delights & Shadows (Copper Canyon Press, 2004).


  1. How sad that house looks and yet with a little work and care it could be a wonderful home again.

  2. Yes. It's chilling to imagine one's own home deserted, in the same state as the house in the photo and the poem, or even more far-gone, as tumbled moss-covered walls with bits of rotten wood poking out here and there.

    In the UK, the hills of Snowdonia are a good place to search for such things.

    On a lighter note, perhaps something went wrong - or perhaps right, so right they felt moved to drop everything.

  3. Wonderful, George. The house is both beautiful and strange, isn't it? It has the design of a larger colonial, but so tiny it almost seems like a playhouse. I think it would be just about right for me. The sad poem witnesses a by-gone life and makes me contemplate what will be said of this civilization of ours when we're gone.

  4. Thanks, ROWAN. It's rather strange. In the area where this abandoned home is found, there are many, many others. I don't know who owns them, but they never seem to be renovated or repaired. They simply rot until they are taken down completely in one of our summer Chesapeake storms.

  5. Thanks, DOMINIC! I like your perspective here. Perhaps you're right. Perhaps something went so right that the former inhabitants packed "home" in their hearts and set forth on a more hopeful journey.

  6. Thanks, RUTH. This house had me thinking about several things, including Shelley's "Ozymandias." "Nothing beside remains. Round the decay of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare the lone and level sands stretch far away." I was also thinking about the recent Newtown massacre, the undeniable fact that what we treasure as "home" can be radically destroyed in an instant. The house in the photo speaks of emptiness, which is what I have been feeling since that terrible day in Connecticut last week.

  7. I am very intrigued by Ted Kooser. Thank you for introducing me- I will look him up. The photo is extra forlorn as there seems to be no path leading up to it. Footsteps erased, a time forgotten.

  8. Thanks, MARGARET. Yes, I think you will like the poetry of Ted Kooser.

  9. Ted says so much with few words and captures the people of the heartland, and all lands really, so beautifully. This is a wonderful device he's chosen here, almost a short story, but compellingly concise. I love photographing old abandoned buildings. I woke up this morning thinking of Robert Frosts's, "The Need of Being Versed in Country Things." I find these stories strangely uplifting. A wonderful photo and post, George.

  10. Thanks so much for your lovely comments, TERESA. Glad you like the poem and the photo. Merry Christmas to you!

  11. Glad you liked it, ROBERT. Happy Holidays to you and your family.

  12. This is a lovely poem and a new poet for me; I look forward to reading more. I have come across houses like these when wandering the countryside, especially in Saskatchewan on the Canadian Prairies. I remember once coming across unfinished schoolwork dated 1947 sitting there on the kitchen table. What always baffles me is how it looks as though the people either just vanished in thin air or left in a hurry, leaving it like a snapshot of their lives the moment they left. My mother's family was one of those that left such a prairie house as is where is in the early 50s to move to a city, get jobs, and escape rural poverty.

  13. Thanks for your thoughtful comments, LAUREL. You undoubtedly have the same interest I do in these old houses, and I like your suggestion that they often look like a snapshot of someone's life just before he or she vanished. Merry Christmas, and enjoy the holidays!

  14. Thanks for your thoughtful comments, LAUREL. You undoubtedly have the same interest I do in these old houses, and I like your suggestion that they often look like a snapshot of someone's life just before he or she vanished. Merry Christmas, and enjoy the holidays!