Rick McCrank isn’t so sure about this.
“I might be singing today with a congregation,” he says. “I hadn’t thought about that ‘til now. That might be…”
As it turns out, hanging out with the congregation of the Faith Baptist Church was one of the least-strange things to happen to McCrank as he ventured through Cleveland and Akron seeking out the starkest symbols of post-recession America, abandoned shopping malls.
The episode begins with McCrank narrating a brief history of shopping malls in the U.S. from their early heyday in the 1950s. A nearly 50-year-old commercial shows images of parking lots full with now-vintage cars and talks about a farmer’s market as being “one of the gayest attractions at Hillsdale”. McCrank states that the rise in online shopping, overbuilding and the recession led to the demise of the mall and surmises “Northeast Ohio is the mecca” of the deterioration.
McCrank first meets local photojournalist Seph Lawless, who has famously documented these abandoned shopping malls in photograph and made them into a book, “Black Friday: The Collapse Of The American Shopping Mall”, which he shares with McCrank before they visit Randall Park. McCrank touches on the history of the shopping mall as a part of suburban life -not just a place to shop but where kids used to hang out and meet people. “You might have kissed your first girlfriend there,” says Lawless. “It was a pivotal time in people’s lives.”
McCrank finds his way to the Fun Wall in Ohio City on the location of what used to be a diaper factory that is now a DIY skate park and safe-haven for graffiti artists. McCrank is filmed with other local skaters showing off the board moves that made him famous.
Local resident Julia Toszer talks about the appeal of places like the Fun Wall and other abandoned sites: “I hope it doesn’t get gentrified to the point where there are no more abandoned buildings. It’s like a playground. It’s a place where cops don’t go, it’s a place where nobody goes and you can just do whatever you want.”
The strangest encounter in McCrank’s tour of Northeast Ohio goes to Rolling Acres Mall and McCrank’s escorts, Greg Torre and Damon Moore, locals who grew up hanging out at the Acres and still pay visits to the site, primarily in search of paranormal activity. They claim to have recorded images and sounds with their equipment inside and outside the mall, particularly the spot where two young women were murdered there in 1986. Inside the mall, escalator tracks are falling, Christmas trees lay left on the ground, planters where palm trees once stood are full of toxic liquid and no one knows what else, leading a quirky, unnerved McCrank to believe he may have run across a human scalp. McCrank says he has been seeking out abandoned places to skate his entire life, but he appears as a fish-out-of-water in some of these settings – until he grabs his board, that is. That awkwardness makes him more of a sidekick than the star of the show; the stars are ultimately the local characters he meets on his journey.
The soundtrack deserves an extra listen – it defies expectations of the type of music you would expect of the skateboard crowd, often somber, reflective and anthemic. Artists like Spacemen 3, The Black Hollies, Uncle John and Whitelock and Here We Go Magic added an ear-catching, often haunting background to the mostly gloomy scenery.
The premiere episode of “Abandoned” featuring Cleveland airs this Friday, September 2 at 9:00 p.m. on Viceland. You can view the trailer here. Also, read our story on abandoned buildings, “Derelict Cleveland”, here and in PressureLife’s last print issue.