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Abandoned Schools, Copper Heads and Tetanus Shots

Kimberly Madison

During all seven minutes of my spare time, I love to discover and photograph urban decay. Last year, Scott Shepherd described an old abandoned high school in Thomaston, Alabama. He promised the gymnasium alone would be worth the almost two-hour drive. Since pretty much everything that comes out of his mouth is a gross exaggeration, I wasn’t optimistic (this isn’t criticism by the way. I like that he exaggerates, because he tells the BEST stories).

My photography friend (and husband of my bestest), Bradley, heard about an old abandoned institute down the road from Thomaston High School, so we decided two locations warranted a trip. On Saturday, we loaded up and headed out.

Some quick history, the Thomaston Colored Institute was founded in 1910. The private school served as one of the few educational opportunities for African-Americans during that era. Her doors were closed for the final time during the early 1970′s. The building has been neglected and the same year it was add to the National Register of Historic Places, the structure was listed as one of the Places in Peril.

I wish I could share an elaborate, Shepherd-esque story about how we gained entry, but a door was open so we walked right in. Many of the windows were boarded up so the limited sunlight offered very few options for compelling shots. After we finished the interior, I walked around to the back of the old school for a quick recon on potential exterior shots.

I was pleasantly surprised to see one of the plywood boards covering a lower level window had fallen off. The room revealed was flooded with light, but the window was considerably higher than the 5’3″ of perspective my stature provided. Intending to vault myself onto the sill, I stepped back, then surged forward.

On my last, momentum-gathering step, a sharp, piercing pain shot through my foot and up my leg. I’m convinced I died for 3/10ths of a second because the agony was so intense, I saw a burst of stars. Ignoring the Tunnel of Light, I stepped back and found a rusty nail jutting up from the weathered board. For reasons unknown, I decided my next and wisest course of action would be to run really, really fast. I took off and barreled around the building.

‘What’s going on,’ Bradley yelled when his camera lens was enveloped in my cloud of dust.

‘Ooh! Ooh! Ooh!’ I was breathing like I was in Lamaze class. ‘Oh my gosh! I’m dying! I think I’m dead! I stepped on a rusty nail! I’ve got Lock Jaw!’ How I managed such profound speed while hobbling is a mystery only the good Lord knows. Later, Bradley confessed he thought I’d been bitten by a Copper Head (he actually used this classification); a determination based solely on the straight-line winds generated as I blurred past, yelling instructions for him to get a Band-Aid out of the First Aid kit.

The next few minutes are sketchy, but I packed up my camera, took a restorative swig of Lipton Green Tea and called Dr. Jeff Parker. I couldn’t bring myself to remove my boot for fear of what carnage would be revealed. It’s worth mentioning that my loving husband suggested I ‘Google it’ when I called to inquire what one does after puncturing a limb with a rusty nail, coated in centuries of bacteria.

After being assured that Heaven was not in my immediate future, I was relieved when Dr. P encouraged me to finish my pictures. He would call in some antibiotics that I should start when I returned home. On Monday, I would stop by for a Tetanus booster.

His words were calming, but later I texted him a picture of my foot (with bonus sock fuzz) and asked if he was still committed to his initial assessment that I would live long enough to review my photographs.

Do not be deceived by the small, practically insignificant wound you see before you when you lean in close to your computer screen. That bad boy was sustained only after the nail had penetrated thick rubber and wool.

Today is Monday and thankfully, my foot is showing no signs of gangrenous activity. I’m still on antibiotics and I re-upped my Tetanus. My foot is sore as the devil, but when I looked over some of my pictures from Saturday, I have to admit: the nail was totally worth it.

The old high school Scott Shepherd told me about:

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