|DEPAUW UNIVERSITY ARCHIVES
After Gary City Church closed in 1975, all the church records were
sent to the Archives at DePauw University in Greencastle, Indiana.
Seth and I did a lot of research on Gary and especially City Church.
In January, 2005, I went to the library at Northern Illinois
University in DeKalb and looked at every book about Gary that I found
there. One of those books was "The Protestant Experience In Gary."
That book had a very detailed history of Gary City United Methodist
Church. The book also had a few photographs of the Church, including a
photo of the cornerstone laying ceremony in 1925. The caption under
the photo listed the DePauw University Archives as the source. I
called the Archives and was told that I could look through the files
and make copies of records and scan photographs. I drove down there in
early February, 2005. I found many old photgraphs of the Gary City
Church including photos of the interior. I scanned about 30 photos. I
also signed a release in which agreed to indicate that the DePauw
University Archives was the source of photos whenever I used them.
When I posted the photos on-line I wrote that I found them in the DU
Archives. When Seth saw the photos he went to City Church and tried to
re-create the pictures by standing in the exact locations where the
pictures were taken. For the old photos which included people, Seth
and I tried to re-create the scenes. The then and now pictures were
posted many times on-line on many sites. After Seth was killed, Tim
suggested that some of his photos should be added to the Archives. I
contacted DePauw and asked how to go about doing that. I wrote the
paper about Seth and selected 20 of his photos of the ruins of City
Church. I presented the paper and the photos to the co-ordinator of
the Archives on December 5, 2006.
Twenty 5 X 7 and two 8X 10 prints of Seth's pictures of the Garey
City Church Ruins and this paper about the photographer have been
added to the Archives at DePauw University.
Seth Thomas (1982-2006)
The ruins photographs of Gary City Church were taken by Seth
Thomas. Seth was a self-taught photographer who found beauty in places
overlooked or considered eyesores by most people. The abandoned
buildings of the American rust belt industrial centers, places like
Gary and Detroit, were the subjects of his photographs. He lived in
Hobart, Indiana, and spent much of his time wandering the streets of
Gary looking for forgotten architectural treasures in the decay and
ruins. Gary City Church was one of his favorite abandoned buildings.
Seth also researched the history of the abandoned locations he
Gary City Church was the vision of William Grant Seaman, pastor
of the congregation from 1916 to 1929. It symbolized what he thought
the church should and could do in downtown Gary. The three words most
frequently used in his references to the building were "beautiful,
commanding, and "monument."
Construction of Gary City Church began in January, 1925. Opening
ceremonies and services were held in the completed church during the
first week of October, 1926.
On October 5, 1975, the final service was held in the church.
Even in its severely decayed condition thirty years after City
Church closed, it remained "beautiful, commanding, and a monument,"
and Seth Thomas captured those qualities in his photographs. The old
church clearly stood out among the ruins of downtown Gary to someone
who was able to see William Seaman's vision in the neglect and decay.
Seth posted many of his ruins photographs on "Urban Photography"
sites on the Internet. The quality of his photographs and his ability
to capture beauty in the decay stood out even among the works of many
professional photographers. His photos attracted the attention of
countless professional and amateur photographers, architects,
engineers, historians and just plain ordinary people around the world.
Many came to Gary to see City Church and take their own photos because
of Seth's pictures. Frequently, they were greeted by Seth who provided
a tour and a history lesson. Seth met with urban photographers from
many states, Canada, Europe and Australia. On August 12, 2006, he met
an urban photographer who had come from Belgium to see the ruins of
Gary City Church. The ruins of Gary City Church are as well known
today for William Seaman's beautiful commanding monument as was the
Church while it was in use because of Seth Thomas.
On September 23, 2006, Seth Thomas was struck and killed by by a
train while taking pictures. On October 1, Seth's family and friends
met in the abandoned church for a memorial ceremony. This just
happened to be the 80th anniversary of the official opening week
services of Gary City Church. As a result of this gathering, Seth's
family has been contacted by many people who spent time at the church
- from taking classes there (before Indiana University was built) to
being married there. They would like provide their personal accounts
for the Archives.
(1) Lewis, James W. The Protestant Experience In Gary, Indiana,
1906-1975. Knoxville: The University of Tennessee Press, 1992.
Frank Joseph *******
December 4, 2006