Catching Lightening In A Bottle!
Located in western Maryland in the tiny town of Lonaconing, the Lonaconing Silk Mill (aka The Klotz Throwing Company) is the last fully intact silk mill left in the United States. It’s no longer in operation, but the looms and machinery are alive and well in the hearts of creatives, photographers, and its caretaker.
Employment had ebbed and flowed throughout the 20th century. In September 1920, Klotz employed 359 with an average payroll of $8,491. That had decreased to between 70 and 80 by the summer of 1941 and just 27 by August 16. It dipped to just five workers by the end of the year. The number of workers increased to 30 by February 15, 1942 and 94 by late March and with it came the power of bargaining. Workers had requested an a nickel increase in wages to bring it up to those of the nearby Celanese textile factory, and when it was denied, the employees went on strike, prompting General Textile to close the mill on June 23, 1957.
The impact of the mill’s closure was devastating. Lonaconing, once the center of early industry in western Maryland, was in shambles. Deep underground coal mining had all but ceased and glass factories that once employed hundreds had begun to close.The silk industry left the United States and headed for China, never to return. This mill is the last remnant of that industrial age. A moment frozen in time. It’s not often if ever that a place this incredible is open to the public to photograph.
There is a lot of history on this place if you care to Google for a few minutes, so enough history and on to……
When I say that this day like “catching lightening in a bottle” I am speaking about the combination of elements that led to be at THIS place on THIS day with THIS lighting. I had wanted to shoot here for 2 years, since first seeing photos from other more talented photographers; it was love at first sight. This location is like the ‘Holy Grail’ of photographers of this genre. The timing had never worked out, until last November when I was in Gaithersburg MD for a show. On a whim I called Herb (the caretaker) and arranged a visit for that Monday afternoon.
It had snowed the morning and was still super-cold. In fact it was about 35*F when I arrived at about 1PM. There was still snow on the grass and on the window sills here. Normally shooting between 1-4PM is not ideal with the sun being so bright and ‘washing out’ most photos; however this day was something special. See the glass in the mill was the old heavy, leaded glass that was typically used in the 40’s and 50’s. What this does is provide a special “filter” or “effect” of sorts that you cannot reproduce with software or a lens. When I got to the top floor it was ~3PM and the high sun was blasting and it should have made the photos look like a nuclear winter, but instead the lighting was positively ethereal and led to a slight glow around everything I saw on that level. That was like catching lightening in a bottle! I feel that everything in my life, all my decisions, all I have learned about photography led me to be here this day, to make these photographs. I don’t know if it will ever get better than this for me.
This will probably be my ‘Opus’.
[ The mill is under the watchful eye of its lone caretaker, Herb Crawford. Herb not only oversees the property but has installed cameras and other security measures to protect the property from vandals and scrappers. Herb offers tours of the mill in 4 hour blocks for a measly $100. ALL of that money goes right back into the mills roof fund to help stop the impending winters. In fact while I was there I saw a large stockpile of roofing supplies and Herb said that the roof work was to begin that NEXT DAY!
Don’t wait, call Herb today! Herb Crawford :301-268-1168 ]