U-505

When I found out that I’d have the chance to spend a few days in Chicago I immediately knew where I was going - to see one of the most unique museum ships in the US. U-505, now part of the Museum of Science & Industry in Chicago, is a submarine with an interesting service history and an even more interesting capture story. I try to visit any museum ships I can find when I’m traveling so there was no way I could pass up the chance to explore the only WWII German U-Boat in the United States.

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U-505 is a German Type IXC U-Boat built during WWII by Nazi Germany, commissioned in August 1941. One of only 6 U-Boats captured by the allies during the war, U-505 had a generally unlucky career at sea. She only managed to sink a total of 8 ships over 12 patrols though most of her misfortune was a direct result of time spent in port. Based out of Lorient in occupied France, she suffered from sabotage attacks and shoddy repair jobs at the hands of the French Resistance. Most patrols ended just days after launch as the “repairs” caught up with the ship forcing a return to port.

The most notable event to occur onboard U-505 was the suicide of her captain, Peter Zschech. On the boat’s 10th war patrol, British destroyers spotted U-505 and forced her to dive. Zschech shot himself in the control room before the other officers as depth charges rained down around the submerged ship. First Watch Officer Paul Meyer took command and was able to return the submarine to port. This was the only recorded case of a submarine commander committing suicide while underwater during the war.

The captain’s bunk is pictured here. While he did not have an entire room to himself, accommodations were the most spacious aboard. Most crew slept in the forward or aft torpedo rooms and shared bunks between shifts in a practice known as “hot bunking”. The submarine was incredibly cramped, but even more so when loaded down with provisions for a war patrol.

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The story of U-505’s capture dates back to 1944 when an American hunter killer task force intercepted the boat. Depth charges were dropped and an oil slick appeared in the waves as the damaged U-505 surfaced. The American forces started firing upon the submarine while the order was given to abandon ship. Sailors abandoned the ship so quickly that the scuttling process was not completed and the engines were left running. The earlier depth charge attacks jammed the rudder which left the boat spinning in a circle as American forces assembled a boarding party.

In the event of capture, German U-Boat crews were to scuttle the submarine and destroy all sensitive material. Because there was such a rush to abandon the submarine, these procedures weren’t followed and evidence crucial to breaking the Enigma code was left untouched. The crew of U-505 were taken prisoner as the submarine was towed to to Bermuda in secret with an American crew. After careful study the ship was released in 1945 to raise war bonds at ports across the US. The navy planned to use U-505 for target practice after the tour but thankfully the citizens of Chicago were able to preserve her for future generations..

What stuck with me the most about U-505 was how unique it was compared to most American ships I’ve visited and how much wood was used in the construction. I’m glad I had the chance to visit while I was in Chicago and encourage others to do the same. It’s the only U-Boat in the United States and a unique piece of WWII history.

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Van Slyke Castle

A short but very steep hike into the hills of New Jersey lands you at the site of Van Slyke Castle, or at least what’s left of it. The castle started life as the retreat of a wealthy NYC stockbroker who began construction on the property around the turn of the 20th century. After his untimely death in 1911, the expansive estate was left to his wife Ruth. She married Warren Van Slyke, an attorney, who gave the property its current namesake. The couple continued to use the castle as a vacation home until Mr. Van Slyke’s death, at which point Mrs. Van Slyke moved in permanently until her death in 1940.

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The castle sat vacant after the death of both Mr. & Mrs. Van Slyke as a buyer for the property was not readily available. In 1949 another couple bought the property but put it back on the market one year later. Purchased in 1950 then abandoned, the house sat empty among the Ramapo Mountains until vandals broke in and burned it to the ground. The castle ruins and land were acquired by the state of New Jersey and turned into Ramapo Mountain State Park, leaving them open for all to explore.

The castle’s exterior is still clearly visible, as are the pool, water tower, and out building. A cast iron furnace rusts in what was once the basement. The pool, located a short distance from the castle ruins, is still accessible by a set of stairs that lead down into it. You can even see remains of the blue paint which once coated the concrete surfaces. These photos were from my third and most recent trip to the castle. If you live in NJ and enjoy hiking, this is definitely a location worth checking out.

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Railroad Museum of Pennsylvania

The Railroad Museum of Pennsylvania is a great place to visit but it sure is in an odd spot. The massive exhibition hall seems to appear out of the blue as you drive down sleepy back roads, cutting through miles of Pennsylvania Dutch farmland. To give you an idea of how rural this place is, the local Subway has hitching posts and I passed 10 horse & buggies on the drive in. The first question in my mind was how a railroad museum of this scale ended up in Strasburg PA, so I did a little research.

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The history of the museum dates back to the Pennsylvania Railroad’s exhibition at the 1939-40 New York World’s Fair. After the fair was over, the railroad decided to put the locomotives and equipment they displayed into a collection for preservation. The collection grew and after the railroad folded, most of the stored equipment the PRR had accumulated was turned over to the current museum in 1975. One very obvious reminder of the collection’s history is the statue of Alexander Cassatt, 7th president of the PRR, which stands just inside the entrance to the museum. The statue once stood in New York Penn Station. Andrew Cassatt had led the construction of New York Penn Station during his time as president, though he didn’t live long enough to see the station completed. Once the station was torn down to build Madison Square Garden (still mad about that…) the statue was moved to its current spot in the museum.

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The museum has a large collection covering steam and diesel locomotives, passenger cars, specialty railroad equipment, and much more. The exhibition hall contains everything that’s been restored by the shop next door while the yard outback holds the unrestored equipment. I’d suggest covering the yard before the sun sets then returning inside for the restored equipment. Some of my personal favorites inside the museum are a restored PRR Class GG1 engine, a traveling classroom for brakemen built into a coach car, and a Pullman dining car set up for a dinner service. The outside yard holds multiple steam engines, some old Amtrak equipment, and a turntable donated by Reading Lines. The museum is actively raising funds to restore the turntable and construct a roundhouse for the engines sitting outside. I’ll be looking forward to a return visit to the museum in Winter 2019 for the annual Trains & Troops event.

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Art Color Printing Company

I wasn’t around when the Art Color Printing Company was in its heyday but I did grow up in the shadow of what was left behind. The factory building sprawls out along the present day NJ Transit right-of-way which is situated in downtown Dunellen. At peak production, the factory printed 10,000,000 copies of popular magazines per month. The company was once the biggest employer in Dunellen and the present day library and station parking lot were built on the old employee lots. The landmark water tower, disused since the factory closed in 1968, still has the faint outline of the previous owner’s name stenciled on its side.

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This was one of those locations close to my house that I always planned to shoot but never got around to. I can think of quite a few places in Athens OH where I went to college that I simply ran out of time to visit before graduation. Having flown back this past weekend to visit I was reminded of all those photos that just never happened because I was always chasing better light, better skies, etc. I try to photograph places with some history behind them where there’s story to tell. Photography has a unique ability to freeze time in a single frame, and the Art Color Printing Company building’s impending demolition was enough to convince me to actually get out and expose some film before everything disappeared in a cloud of dust. A real-estate developer is demolishing the old factory to make way for new new apartment complexes but I wanted to capture the areas I remembered it.

The Stasi Museum | Berlin, Germany

How did I end up at the former headquarters of the notorious East German secret police, the Stasi? It all started with a German drama film titled The Lives of Others by Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck. The main plot line follows a Stasi agent tasked with tracking the every move of a playwright conspiring to leak information to West Germany. Operating from the attic above his apartment, the agent slowly has a change of heart despite his commitment to the Stasi. Some scenes from the movie were shot in the building I photographed which still stands frozen in time today. Most of my time in Germany was spent in overcast conditions, but the weather was spectacularly clear for this shoot.

Document safes, like the one seen in the back wall, could be found in almost every room.

Document safes, like the one seen in the back wall, could be found in almost every room.

Switchboard outside Mielke’s office.

Switchboard outside Mielke’s office.

The Stasi, or Ministry for State Security, was established to be the sword and shield of the Socialist Unity Party of Germany. Orchestrating kidnappings, reading personal correspondence for incriminating evidence, and wiretapping telephone lines were all in a days work for the agency. They would even go so far as to wire entire houses with microphones in the hopes of catching those suspected of inappropriate behavior. The Stasi focused on psychological harassment rather than physical punishment at a time when your own husband or wife could be spying on you for the agency.

The architecture of the building itself is what I like to call Soviet drab, consisting of prefabricated concrete structures not unlike you’d find in a frigid Siberian prison. Despite the sunny weather I couldn’t help but feel a sense of dread wash over me as I passed through a narrow alley into the square complex. The grounds haven’t aged well, though someone is clearly trying to keep up with them. The museum itself has many great exhibits covering Stasi surveillance technology, techniques, and the history of the GDR. Some would hope that this piece of East German history might be forgotten, but I for one am glad that the offices of the Stasi were preserved. Walking through the offices of Erich Mielke, Col. Heinz Volpert, and the other upper management of the Stasi is like taking a step back in time, or maybe a step into The Lives of Others. I’m glad I got the chance to photograph and experience the headquarters of the most widespread state security operations in history.

Cafeteria/lounge area near the leader’s offices.

Cafeteria/lounge area near the leader’s offices.