The history of abandoned things

Buried in sand: The abandoned Rubjerg Knude Lighthouse

I came across the site Artificial Owl this week. Artificial Owl finds images of long forgotten, man-made objects, locates them on a map and tells a bit of the story behind the object if possible. I was initially struck by the beautiful images of buildings, ships, airplanes, and automobiles left to deteriorate and crumble back to nature. I love the imagery of nature reclaiming her elements. It’s a definite reminder that man and his creations will not last longer than mother earth.

There were a number of images of airplanes, which I was glad to see, since I like them most. One of them was particularly interesting for a couple of reasons. First of all, it’s a picture of a B-29. I love B-29s and B-17s from World War II. The reason, besides them being beautiful airplanes, is because my grandfather was a belly gunner in a B-17 during WWII. He, and an uncle, had numerous models and paintings of B-17s and other WWII fighter planes in my grandpa’s basement. I even put together a model of a B-17 myself as a kid. So, naturally, my interest was peaked. Another reason I was interested in this picture is because I remember hearing about it. The very brief history of this airplane goes like this.

B29 Kee Bird, on frozen lake near Thule, Greenland

In 1947 the Kee Bird (as it was called), was on a top secret spy mission. It made an emergency landing on a frozen lake near Thule, Greenland. The crew were all fine and rescued, but the airplane was left. In the 1990s, a few older gentlemen decided they would rescue the airplane. After lots of money and time (nearly a year), they repaired the engines and minor damage to the plane, and prepared to take off. As they taxied around the bumpy frozen lake, one of the generators used for power broke loose and started a fire in the airplane. All of the crew escaped, but the airplane was destroyed by fire. When the lake melted in the summer, the plane sank to the bottom, never to be seen again.

All of this got me thinking that this would be an awesome way to do history. There is so much information connected to this one airplane, that it could easily fill a book or documentary. I haven’t read either of them, but either would definitely be an interesting read. It would be fun to research the history of the plane, the details and reasoning behind the flight, the biographies of the crew, and all that jazz. There is so much history that can be incorporated into the story of this airplane.

This could be done for all of the images on Artificial Owl, in fact for any abandoned man-made object. As I reflect on that, this is precisely what I want to do with my dissertation. I want to focus on one abandoned tunnel in Halberstadt, Germany. It was used by the Germans before, during and after WWII. It think telling the story of this tunnel can incorporate many aspects of German history around it. Time will tell on how that works out.

Well, I’ll leave you with a few more pics of possible historical tales…

B29 Kee Bird, abandoned plane, near Thule, Greenland

Abandoned old planes at La Paz - Jfk International (El Alto) Airport - Bolivia

Shipwreck of the Galant Lady on Bimini island, Bahamas

Antonov An-8 at rest in Russian woods.


(All images courtesy Artificial Owl, used without permission – thanks!)

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