Gary is a city in Lake Country in Indiana, it is not strictly speaking a ghost town but it has suffered a massive decline in population and today it is full of derelict and abandoned buildings. While going to many of America's ghost towns may be fun, exciting, a time warp, or educational, many may find Gary somewhat depressing as it is a living city.
For those who would like to see a ghost town that is now a State Park ghost town, visit Bodie in California. At one point Bodie was once one of the most significant settlements in California.
Founding and Rise of The Rustbelt City
Gary was founded by U.S. Steel in 1906 as they built the sprawling Gary Works factory there. The jobs it created pulled people from all around to its state-of-the-art factory.
- Founded: In 1906 By U.S. Steel
- Name: Gary Was Named After Lawyer Elbert Henry Gary (Unfortunately, not After Spongebob-Squarepants Snail)
Among those who came to Gary were European immigrants and African Americans fleeing the Jim Crow laws that were then in the South. By 1950 it is said that it was one of the most segregated cities in the country.
- Richard G. Hatcher: Was One Of The Country's First African American Mayers
At its peak, it was a very diverse and prosperous city. At one point it was dubbed the "City of the Century". But then fortunes took a massive change with the onset of the white flight of the 1970s. Since then the city of Gary has had one of America's highest percentages of African Americans.
Like many other American urban centers reliant on one industry it was vulnerable. Growing overseas competitiveness in the steel industry forces U.S. Steel to lay of workers. In 1970 the U.S. Steel Gary Works employed over 30,000, by 1990 that had fallen to just 6,000 and 5,100 in 2015. While the steel mill continues to be a major steel producer it only has a fraction of its former workforce.
The Decline Of Gary
As time went on, more and more people migrated into the suburbs out of the city and businesses followed. A self-perpetuated cycle was created as fewer people were paying tax in the city, this meant the city had less money, which meant it was even less attractive, which lead to more people moving out...
According to Abandoned America and the Chicago Tribune, in 1993 Gary earns itself the unenviable title as the "murder capital of the U.S.". At that point, it had a murder rate of 91 per 100,000 - x3 more than Chicago (The USA had a homicide rate of 5 per 100,000 in 2018). This has not improved much in 2020 it was suffering from a murder rate of 78 per 100,000 making it one of the worst in the nation.
- 1993: The Year Gary Was The the Murder Capital of The U.S.
One of the scarier stories that would send shivers down anyone's spine is that of serial killer Darren Deon Vann who was arrested in 2014. The details can't be gone into here.
None of this means that the city is necessarily dangerous to visit, but one should always exercise reasonable precautions. Unfortunately, Gary's story is not unique and there are many Rustbelt cities that many people avoid at all costs.
Gary has been closed several of its schools within the last ten years. Some of the buildings have been reused while most sit unused and abandoned.
Gary is only located 25 miles or 40 kilometers from downtown Chicago and is adjacent to the Indiana Dunes National Park bordering Lake Michigan in the Chicago metropolitan area.
- Located: 25 Miles or 40 Kilometers From Downtown Chicago
As the city borders Lake Michigan just one foot beneath the surface is pure sand. There is so much sand here that it mined for over a century particularly to make glass. The city is on the southern end of a former lake bed of the prehistoric Lake Chicago.
Today the city is fast in decline, its population peaked in 1960 when the population peaked at 178,320 residents. Since then it has continuously declined and in the 2020 Census, it had fallen to only 69,093 people - a fall of 61%.
- Peak Population: 178,320 in 1960
- Today's Population: 69,093 in 2020
- Fall: 61%
- One Third: Percentage of Residents Estimated to be Abandoned
It is estimated that nearly a third of all homes in the city are unoccupied or abandoned. A 2015 survey asserted that around 13,000 (over a third of the structures) were blighted.
Common with many Rust Belt cities it suffers from above-average unemployment and decaying infrastructure.
Various schemes and initiatives have been implemented but none have worked. The 2020 Census relieved a further 13.9% drop in the population since 2010 - which dropped 21.9% from 2000.
For the urban explorers out there, there are plenty of abandoned and decaying buildings to discover in Gary.