May 28 – Wedding in a Furnace

This was my third trip to the Carrie Furnaces in Rankin and to be honest, I could never get tired of going there. I am kind of envious of Ron Baraff, the Director of Historic Resources and Facilities at Rivers of Steel National Heritage Area which manages the historic site. Ron also loves photography and he has the ability to hang out here anytime he wants. It has to absolutely amazing to sit and watch the changing light on the rusting furnaces as the day passes.

My first trip was a simple photo excursion to photograph the site with nobody there. Ron was my guide for the morning. It was beyond cool.

The second trip was to try and make some images that would show how the Rivers of Steel organization was repurposing the site as both a historic landmark where people could tour the site and learn about the steel industry and also as a venue for special events, such as a performance by the Pittsburgh Bach Choir. On that trip, I was able to make some images of a tour viewing the furnaces as well as the performance inside the old power plant building.

But since it is hard to know how photos will work together in an edit, I wanted more options. When the opportunity to photograph a wedding on the site presented itself, I jumped at the chance.

One thing that struck me more than anything else that day was the quiet. I arrived about 2 hours before the ceremony and there was very little activity at that time. After I set up a remote camera to catch a different view while photographing from another position, I was able to wander the site by myself.

The last two times I was here, it had always been with other people. There was a lot of background noise. But on this early Saturday morning, I was alone inside the furnace. The wind direction was keeping the vehicle noise on the nearby bridge away from the site and if you stood still all you could hear was some birds chirping and the occasional sound of the structure creaking or possibly a bit of rust falling off. It was strange and surreal. All I could think is that the people who worked here when the furnaces were in operation, probably never knew this sound. I must have been extremely loud back then. Today it was silent. It is truly hard to describe the feeling.

Miranda Crotsley and Hollen Barmer were getting married. Their reason for choosing the Carrie Furnaces as the venue for the wedding are best explained in their own words…

We visited Carrie for the first time in September 2014 for a public tour (led by Jim Kapusta, who, to our delight, was one of the guides for our wedding guests). We found Carrie to be breathtakingly, heartbreakingly, hauntingly beautiful ruins in what used to be a cradle of industry and innovation. We also thought of the workers and of our own grandparents and parents who worked tough jobs with long hours to give us more than they had growing up. (Miranda's dad worked in a fiberglass factory in Central Pennsylvania, and mine worked at Tennessee Valley Authority's Allen Steam Plant in Memphis.) ... The main themes for us are respect for the work that took place at Carrie, a desire to preserve the site itself, Carrie's strange beauty, and the resilience of people and nature in repurposing and reclaiming the site. Miranda Crotsley and Hollen Barmer

After meeting with them I did some more exploring of the site for the best angles and places from which to shoot the wedding. Before long it was time to begin. I made some images of them preparing and then took up a position below where they would be walking out of the furnace and into the area where they would be married.

During the ceremony, I really was struck by the words spoken by Rev. Heather Schoenewolf who was officiating the ceremony. She made a point to focus on the significance of the venue for a wedding. I thought it was most fitting.

It is fitting today that we stand here in the belly of a blast furnace – a site rich with history, honoring the labors of our predecessors ... who literally built this city and much of the world with the iron manufactured here in Carrie Furnace. It is fitting too, that by celebrating your wedding here, you are likewise honoring that this same site now has a new life. It has found a new purpose, shaped by the changes that are simply a quality of the passing of time. Rev. Heather Schoenewolf - Officiant
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