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Abandoned Topeka with Emily Cowan

Many of us are fascinated by abandoned buildings, especially if they're in our own town. We often wonder what kind of stories abandoned structures have hidden. Author Emily Cowan conducted a large amount of research to discover Topeka's stories and she shares them in her new book.

Abandoned Topeka, Cowan's debut book, explores several famous abandoned buildings including White Lakes Mall, Sumner Elementary School and the Menninger Clock Tower.

Q & A with Emily Cowan

What do you love about exploring history?

I can remember my first abandoned building I stepped into that made me feel something was a small school in Skedee, Oklahoma. The community was disappearing, and the school had been closed for many years. I wondered about who had gone to school here as I studied the names on assignments scattered on the floor and clay pots with the date 1984 scratched into the bottom. I wanted to know more. I wanted to know how the building had gotten to this point, where did everything go wrong and most importantly share the knowledge I learned with others. I got hundreds of people sharing memories of this building that was seemingly forgotten when I stumbled upon it.

Tell us a bit about how you became inspired to write your book.

Well outside of Topeka being my hometown there are unfortunately some incredible places abandoned in the city. Places with so much rich history that has affected hundreds of thousands of people. The first building that made me think about highlighting such history in Topeka was the Menninger Clock tower.

Why should people care about buildings that are abandoned and maybe falling apart?

I will admit I was not the biggest fan of history going through school. What got me to care was thinking on it deeper than that's a cool building or save them rather than building new. This is OUR history, these are people's memories, people's dedication, and hard work. I think as a young person the hardest message to get across to other young people is that history doesn't have to be boring and that preservation encompasses many different things that are thrilling and great to participate in.

What was the most surprising thing you've witnessed while exploring abandoned buildings?

The most surprising thing I ever witnessed was walking into a school in Central Kansas and finding that it was completely untouched. Everything was covered by a thick layer of dust and dirt but looked like you could pick up classes any moment. A sea of books lay on the floor in one room, basketball laying front and center on the court, trophies proudly sitting in their case. It was a surreal experience.

Please share some book recommendations for other history buffs.

Any of the America Through Time books! I have a fellow exploring friend Regina Daniel who has authored five books about Kansas City/Kansas history that any of my readers would share a love for!

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