I know I've talked about a lot of crazy shit before, but I swear you'll probably think I've flipped my wig with this one.
Most people would probably say, "Mark, what's with the cryptic tone?"
Well, it's kind a long story, so fuck it. Here goes nothing.
To start off, there seems to be a trend going around that was pointed out by a friend of mine on his latest blog. He'd written how some people were cleaning out their attics only to find some pretty fascinating stuff tucked away in boxes left behind by parents or grandparents. Ever since my mom died early last year, I hadn't touched the attic in our house. I felt there were too many memories waiting for me up there, and I knew if I saw them, it would open those old wounds up again. Hearing about what some of these people found was pretty inspiring, though: Old paintings or sketches done by famous artists before they were famous. Stashes of money which were sealed up within hidden folds of boxes originally thought to be empty. Ancient statues or plates hundreds, or even thousands, of years old, left forgotten under old tax forms and miscellaneous papers. I mean, some truly amazing stuff.
Over the last week, I felt that maybe it would be worth it to do the same. My grandparents had packed tons of boxes away up there, probably with the intention to go through it one day. After they died, my mom always complained about how it was messy, and said that she'd have to do it someday. My older brother moved out when he was eighteen, and lived across the city, so inevitably, the duty fell to me. But, with no interest to dig through the past, I left the attic and it's boxes untended. Like a bride at the altar, those boxes waited for the day that someone with a dusty death wish might be stupid enough to open them and peer through their contents. Because of the blog post, I'd started watching videos of people cleaning out their attics and always finding weird but fascinating pieces of history. Eventually, I broke, and last Tuesday afternoon, I decided it had to be done.
Armed with a fist full of trash bags and a pair of the only rubber gloves I had on hand, I took those twenty fateful steps upstairs. I could already feel the dust bunnies clogging up my sinuses, but I was determined to don the role of an adult and finally deal with what everyone else had been avoiding since the dawn of time. Gripping the leather handle hanging from the ceiling, I gave it a solid yank. As the attic door swung open, I shielded my face from the layers of dust which dropped down. Somehow, it still managed to seep through my shirt, making me cough for a few moments before I could brush it away. I took a moment to wipe my glasses before pulling the nearby step stool over to reach the attic stairs.
Inside wasn't much better. Particles of dust floated through the air at will, illuminated by the sunlight coming in through a grimy window. I braced myself and used my forearms to pull my body the rest of the way inside. Brushing my clothes off, I looked around for a moment. Boxes piled three to four feet high crowded most of the space, making me wonder where to start. It was like a war zone in there, full of cardboard and mayhem and the carnage of out-of-date tax forms and Christmas cards piling up in every direction. So, it was pretty much the worst way to spend my day off. With the window unable to be opened without the assistance of some kind of super powered crowbar, I spent about six hours breathing in musty air as I searched. Most of what I found was garbage. Piles of faded paperwork, old threadbare quilts, and pictures of people I had never seen or didn't recognize cluttered the majority of the boxes. Almost all of it went into trash bags, while I saved the few tid-bits which held some inherent sentimental value or that still needed to be examined under better light.
There was something that caught my eye, however. At the bottom of a box labeled, 'Work', I discovered a manila folder with a single word written across it: Zenon. The name really stuck out. It sounded like some kind of alien planet or a science fiction series. I couldn't help but find myself fascinated. I mean, what can I say? I'm a bit of a Sci-Fi nerd. Late at night, you'd probably find me chowing down on some peanut butter and jelly sandwiches in my pajamas, lights turned down and TV tuned in to re-runs of Mystery Science Theater. It certainly sounded more appealing than being stuck in an old attic searching for who knew what.
Pulling the folder out from beneath the other crumbling, yellowed pages, I noticed it was light. Inside, I found two papers, the first an old black and white photo. I was able to recognize my grandpa easily enough with his high hairline and mischievous smile. My mom told me I took a lot after him, though I'd never met him before. He was standing next to another man, probably around the same age but with a much rounder build. Unlike grandpa though, the man had a feathery mustache and neatly parted, short hair. From his appearance, he might have been a scientist or mathematician. In the background I could see a dusty-looking valley. Everything seemed flat, like it was the setting for some unnamed spaghetti western.
The guy seriously reminded me of, like, Teddy Roosevelt, or at least his look-a-like double. It was pretty odd. However, it was the back of the photograph that stopped me in my tracks.
"Les R and Daniel B, 1911
Zenon. There it was again. And beneath the photo, you'll never guess what I found. It was a map of something called the 'Gardens of Zenon' park, dated 1915. On the other side of the map, a logo for the park was sprawled across the surface. Written in pen was an address, or rather, the city/state location.
Berlin, Nevada, huh?
The name sounded really familiar, but I couldn't be sure where'd I'd heard it before. I wanted to look it up, but in the process of unloading all the boxes to find something interesting, I'd blocked myself in with a mound of very heavy trash bags and empty boxes, so I spent the next fifteen minutes tossing things around to clear the path to the attic door. After tossing the garbage bags down one at a time, I broke the boxes down and stacked them on the floor near the door. I could deal with those later, when I had to collect stuff for recycling. Lowering myself out of the attic, I used the pile of garbage I'd dropped to gain my footing. It took a while to haul the ten bags into the garage, and even longer for the crick in my back to go away. You never realize how heavy paper is until you have to carry a crapload of it all at once. The whole time I was working, though, the name continued to tumble around in my brain.
Berlin, Nevada... Berlin, Nevada... Where the hell have I heard that before?
I'll admit, I had to look it up online. It wasn't a big place, and it wasn't one that most people seemed to have much to say about. Not being a history nut, I glossed over most of the information, but my research did bring up some interesting facts. Berlin is a small town which was established near the middle of Nevada. Primarily created as a part of the Union Mining District in 1897, it shriveled shortly afterward due to the panic of 1907, when the stock exchange fell to pieces in New York. There was a lot of hope for an economic boom when the town was founded. However, by 1911, it was completely abandoned.
Something not a lot of people are aware of, though, is that a few years after the death of Berlin, an investment company led by Thomas Kearns, one of the richest men in Utah, took notice of the abandoned region. Las Vegas, established as a city around roughly the same time as Berlin's downfall, was quickly growing. With the rapid success of the railroads, people began flooding from Utah into Nevada and California. Believing he would regret not taking advantage of it, Kearns called upon Daniel Burnham, an old friend of his, to help recreate Burnham's success at the Chicago Columbian Exposition almost two decades earlier. Together, they envisioned creating a new city entirely dedicated to amusements which would draw in crowds from neighboring states. Burnham's motto was, "Make no little plans. They have no magic to stir men's blood and probably will not themselves be realized."
After spending about three hundred thousand dollars, the project was scrapped. Zenon, which was the name of the joint venture Burnham and Kearns developed, became little more than a memory. Documents and diaries found from that period of history claim a wave of violence stopped construction in its tracks. Half erected rides and unfinished buildings were said to litter the site, making it feel like time had frozen. Burnham died from 'an accident', and then the entire place cleared out.
The facts got me thinking, and after wracking my brain, I recalled a scant newspaper article I'd received through email last year from an anonymous sender. It took an hour of digging through old love letters and confirmation notices from age-old bills, but I located the email in a folder blandly titled, "friends". Opening it up, I was assaulted with memories of my last ex-girlfriend and the terrible fights we used to have. In the middle of some stupid argument, I'd stormed out and driven to a park a few miles away to cool down. I'd jumped onto the usual social networking sites so I could complain to the world about 'that bitch'. It helped.
I'd opened my email after that, and awaiting me was the usual assortment of advertisements and fake solicitations from girls who didn't exist. But in the middle of the junk sat something more interesting. The header was labeled, 'For Mark DISASTER'. It was a weird title for an email, so I opened it, expecting more junk. What I found was oddly chilling.
"The Salt Lake Herald., July 05, 1912
BERLIN'S MYSTERIOUS DISASTER
Careless Handling of Heavy Metal Cause of $300,000 Project Torn Asunder at That Place
Berlin, NV, July 2.—The town of Berlin in Nevada was visited by disastrous misfortune at 8:30 on the morning of the 2nd, involving the loss of many lives. At the hour named, one Daniel Burnham, a renowned American architect, was in the act of peering through a number of forms when a cable holding up a steel beam oddly severed. Soon after, Burnham was crushed and panic spread to adjoining portions of the site."
When I first read it, I tried to brush it off, but something deep down told me I shouldn't delete it. I figured the best thing to do was put it in a folder and come back to it later. Pulling it up, I thought about everything that had brought me to that moment. If I hadn't found the photo in my attic, would I have thought about that email again? Focusing on the article snippet itself, I was prompted with an even more intriguing question: how exactly did it fit into the puzzle of what happened at Berlin, and what occurred afterward?
The article had some important information, but left me feeling I was still missing some key pieces of the story. The email was a valuable lead though, and I scoured through the online archives of the Salt Lake Herald in search of any clues. Other articles mimicked what I'd already read, but with each successive one, I began to realize something. After that fateful day on the 5th, Thomas Kearns seemed to disappear. There were reports he came back to town, but about two weeks later, he just vanished. His company dissolved a few years later, and nobody heard from him, or his wife and children, again. You can look through the records yourself, but you'll find no mention of 'Kearns Industries' after 1915.
In the one interview they were able to get from him, dated July 19th, 1912, he gave a vague and somewhat ominous explanation of the events which happened at the site.
Reporter: "Mr. Kearns, what happened at the site of Berlin, Nevada? It has been reported there was an accident. Can you give us any further details?"
Kearns: "Kearns Industries believes the site was not properly analyzed, and thus was structurally unsound. Plain and simple, it was an accident. These things happen, and there was nothing we could do about it. On that note, we send our condolences to the family of Daniel Burnham. He was a fine gentleman and an exceptional architect. It was a mistake."
It was a cop-out though, a convenient excuse. Right off the bat, I doubted that was the real reason for what happened. So why don't I accept this answer? Why am I holding on to a piece of the past that's over a hundred years old?
It was because of Zenon's maze.
After Thomas pretty much vanished from the face of the Earth, a shadowy figure emerged from the backdrop. While Kearns left his stockholders out to dry, Daniel Burnham's legacy would live on in the form of his son, now thirty year old Burnham Jr. Using his father's assets to take control of the Zenon Corp., Daniel stepped up to the throne and took full command. Under his orders, he demanded production on the park continue. To crown the achievement, he also ruled that the park would be expanded to make way for a new attraction.
Zenon's maze was to be a sprawling, acre-wide, interactive puzzle that would surround a majority of the park. Honestly, it was a controversial undertaking from the beginning. With the disasters that had already befallen the site during the last period of construction, most of the stockholders were far from easy about the plans proposed by Daniel Jr. With his father's reputation on the line, he promised it would be lucrative for all of them, especially with an influx of travelers between the states. By 1915, the construction was completed. The finished product was apparently really nice. There was a glimmering hotel with a few hundred rooms, a chute ride, a small zoo, and a grand theater. Overriding everything else, though, was the Gardens of Zenon Maze. Ninety miles of hedge were set up in a sprawling and confusing fashion meant to disorient those unlucky enough to wander into the gardens. Surrounding the resort was a moat of water, and at night, couples could take a romantic gondola ride around the park.
At first, it seemed like the place might actually be a success. People came to visit from the surrounding states, just as planned. Then, everything stopped.
With no explanation or offense having transpired, the gates were sealed. The Zenon Corporation pulled the plug and nobody knew why. People were not happy about it. Hundreds of jobs created by the opening of the park were suddenly thrown out the window. When an answer was demanded from the people, a vague mention of the war's impact on the economy was all they were told. The townspeople, with no place to go, were forced to move away, and the town emptied out for the second time since the great panic.
Something had happened there. I couldn't be sure what it was, but there were too many clues pointing to something secret waiting to be uncovered. The man in the picture with my grandpa, the map of the hundred-year-old abandoned park, the anonymous email I received—it was all drawing me to that single conclusion. Something happened there, some strange and bizarre event leading to one of the most notorious events in history people didn't talk about. That's what this was all about.