Saturday, June 13, 2009
Infiltration: Public School Number Four aka Annie Lytle Elementary - Jacksonville, FL
(img courtesy grayd80)
School Four. A legendary, mystical landmark of good ol' Jacksonville, Florida. Seen best from the overpass of I95 North, just before the I-10 merger, it's the destitute end of an otherwise colorful historic5 Points. Like anyone else, I love a good ghost story, and for many years was curious about this place. All the kids talked about it back in high school, but no one ever had a first hand experience there. It was always a friend of a friend who went in and had the daylights scared out of them by either the ghosts of children that supposedly burned alive in the school, or by some unexplained spirit thought to have be derived forth by satanic ritualists that practiced and built altars inside the creepy building.
I don't remember how it came up, but I was sitting at Starlite one night with some friends and we all decided we wanted to try and go in there. We randomly picked a weeknight, met up in 5 Points, and on we went, a group of six.
The photos speak a lot for themselves, and I don't believe in ruining a great surprise, so here's where I say "go see for yourself". All I will say on my own account is that the scariest things we encountered were a few loud unexplained noises from inside the building, and bats flying down the main hallway upstairs. The worst part was sitting in the car a few blocks away, waiting for the rest of our party to arrive, and psyching ourselves up about actually getting inside the place in the process.
The stories of death or murder inside the building seem to all be fictional, as I did some research and found that there are no police reports of any kind that record a murder or death at the location. I found a very thorough article that describes the place very well. The following words are from that article, and the following photos are what I shot inside the building in the hour and a half we were inside. We did have several flashlights and a bright fluorescent lantern that provide enough light in our immediate areas, but it is literally pitch black in some areas, so pardon the crooked and blurry shots. Everything is basically just me walking around the school with my lantern in one hand and 30D in the other, snapping as I walked.
" In 1891, a small wooden schoolhouse was constructed on the current site. After several years of use, the influx of people to the area demanded a greater size and resulted in numerous extensions to the building, continuing until the overall structure became unstable. In 1915, approximately $250,000 was granted by the local government to tear down the schoolhouse and replace it with the structure that exists there today.
The current structure was designed by architect Rutledge Holmes and built by the Florida Engineering and Construction Company, with construction being completed in 1917. It was first called Public School Number Four, but the name was later changed to Annie Lytle Elementary School, after a former principal.
The building initially faced Riverside Park, but the view became obscured in the 1950's when the Interstate 95 expressway was built. As a result of the height of the building and close proximity to I-95, the City of Jacksonville frequently places banners on the front of the building as a welcome to the city.
Sometime in the late 1960's or early 1970's, the building was abandoned by the Duval County School Board and either sold or leased to a private entity, after which it was used as a private Christian school. In 1976, the building was permanently abandoned altogether, and at this point the building was clearly the property of the City of Jacksonville.
In the mid-1990's, a portion of the building caught fire as a result of homeless persons starting a fire inside to keep warm, which got out of control. The fire was
extinguished without any extensive structural damage being incurred.
On October 29, 1999 the building was purchased by Foundation Holding Incorporated. In 2000 and 2001, Foundation Holding had plans to demolish the building and build a condominium complex (to be called "Lytle Place Condominiums"). These plans fell through, possibly as a result of the building's proximity to the noise of I-95, as well as resistance from admirers of the building including the Jacksonville Historical Society and Riverside Avondale Preservation, Inc. As of this writing, the building is still owned by this company. In or around 2002, the roof of the auditorium collapsed to the floor."
"Stories of murder and accidental death inside the building are entirely unfounded, as far as any researcher can gather. One of the most popular myths is that a boiler explosion killed several people and prompted the school to be left to ruin. Although a boiler explosion may have occurred, there is no record of any death in the school at any time, before or after it was abandoned, nor is there any official record of human remains being found in or around the building, nor did any such explosion cause the abandonment.
Another common myth is that in the recent past, a wrecking ball was smashed into the front of the building in an attempt to demolish it, which resulted in all of the windows on that side of the building being shattered, but the exterior wall remained undamaged. There is no official record of any attempt to demolish the building.
Another somewhat more uncommon myth is that the school's principal and a teacher were having an extramarital affair, and, unable to escape their marriages, committed a dual-suicide in the principal's office, right above the basement's hole-entrance. This is wrong on many levels. Once again, no official record of death in the building. Secondly, the "hole-entrance" to the basement did not exist when the building was in use, and exists today in a classroom, not the principal's office.
Although there have never been any reports of murder, there was a report of a rape (both the accused and victim homeless) inside the building following its abandonment. Aside from that, the only arrests made there have been for trespassing and vandalism."
"The building has without doubt been used by "Satanists" and/or others for such purposes since its abandonment. There have been several confirmed sightings of makeshift altars with animal remains seated atop them, although such activity seems to have ceased in the past two to three years, most likely in response to heightened security, and no obvious evidence remains."
"The exterior walls of the building are very overgrown with vines, and defaced by a mild amount of graffiti. There are several trees and countless ferns growing out of the roof, and in the warmer months ferns and vines can be found in a well-lit hallway on the second floor, as well as creeping down the cement stairs."
"The grass surrounding the building is well-kept, and a tall chain link fence with barbed wire, erected in the latter half of 2004, surrounds the property. When the fence was put in place, so were a series of blindingly bright floodlights on utility poles around the perimeter. The lights are photo-activated, and click on at sundown.
There is a small abandoned house (as well as a tool shed) on the school's property which supposedly once housed the groundskeeper and guardian of the building.
The interior of the building is absolutely covered with graffiti, some of it many decades old. Pentagrams and swastikas abound, as well as sinister messages, bad spelling and grammar, the occasional pleasant poetry, and the lyrics to Jefferson Airplane's "White Rabbit."
"The parts of the building that receive no ventilation are quite dusty. It can easily be seen with a flashlight, wafting through the air. Some of this dust is most certainly asbestos."
"All of the doors and windows on the first floor have been sealed off, most by plywood, some by cinder blocks and masonry. Many of the second-floor windows have also been boarded up. The entrance for the present owners of the building is the front door, which has been replaced by two large hinged pieces of plywood secured by heavy chains and six heavy Master locks."
"Parts of the first floor have no second floor immediately above them, which creates a roof that is accessible through smashed hallway windows on the second floor. There are several ventilation ducts (which are now simply holes in the ceiling) that one could easily fall through if walking on this "sub-roof."
"There is one classroom that was clearly the site of the fire. The ceiling's paint is charred black, and there are countless pieces of burned wood laying around.
It is most unusual the number of items left behind by those that last used the building. It is not uncommon to find un-graded schoolwork, desks, school pamphlets, newspapers, etc. I once found a signed field trip permission slip dated April, 1976. The floor is totally littered in many places with trash left by vagrants and squatters over the years."
"One of the most notable sites in the building is the view of the auditorium (ceiling collapsed) from the balcony on the second story. It is best during the daylight."
"The building does have a basement, which is quite unusual for Florida, especially given Jacksonville's high water table. After searching the interior and exterior of the building, I never found the intended entrance to the basement, however I believe it to be near the auditorium's stage (there is a chimney behind the stage, which I believe to be connected to the basement's boiler)."
"However, the basement is still accessible through a small hole in the cement floor of a classroom on the first level. The distance from the hole to the floor of the basement is around seven to eight feet.
The basement is, without doubt, the most unusual part of this building. The floor is simply dirt. Like most basements, it is very cold. Footprints and dogs' paw prints can be seen everywhere, as well as shallow holes obviously dug by dogs. The paw prints were apparently left there before the basement's true entrance was sealed. The basement is not simply one large room, like most basements. For every room up above, there is a corresponding room below, with elegant red brick archways instead of doors. This creates a feeling of being inside a tunnel system rather than a basement. There is some trash in the area immediately below the hole, as well as some graffiti, but but both stop there. The farther you wander from the hole-entrance, the fewer footprints can be seen. There are countless steel pipes (presumably steam pipes) running horizontally through the "tunnels," which one must step over or crawl under. When in the basement, it becomes apparent that either part of the building is sinking, the soil level is rising, or both. The farther the walk, the farther you must bend forward to avoid smashing your head on the ceiling. The size of the basement and the labyrinth feeling that all of the twists and turns give it led me to feel that the basement may extend out beyond the actual building, although this is rationally unlikely.
"There is a small house located just outside the fence, which is occupied by an elderly man who can often be seen walking his dog around the building and frequently notifies police and/or the building's owners of trespassers. He may or may not be paid by the school's present owner."
So.... who wants to shoot in here? :)