2nd Stories: A Hoosier photographer explores what's upstairs, on top, and overhead

PHOTOGRAPHY by John Bower, FOREWORD by Michael Atwood


Read Michael Atwood's Foreword
Read John Bower's Introduction
Read John Bower's Afterword
Look at sample images

Get ready to look up—with Hoosier photographer, John Bower. Victorian gingerbread, ornate cornices, limestone creatures, soaring towers, unexpected attics, and much more await your exploration. While many people fail to notice these overhead treasures, Bower has focused all his creative attention on them. The result is 200 fascinating images of what’s upstairs, on top, and overhead. There are also captivating stories of discovery, and an insightful Foreword by Michael Atwood, host of “Across Indiana.” 2nd Stories is an unforgettable journey into the higher, hidden realms of the Hoosier heartland.

In short, 2nd Stories is about coming upon the unexpected that is, remarkably, always present. Because we tend to look straight ahead, we inevitably miss the "higher" dimensions of our daily reality. And there is so much to perceive up there—as 2nd Stories demonstrates. As you turn its pages, you'll discover images of ornate Victorian storefronts, soaring steeples, advertisements, clock towers, and other high-up outdoor wonders. Plus, there are rarely visited attics and upper-level interior spaces at an abbey, a monastery, a Civil War era children's home, an 1860's college building, and more. 2nd Stories will continue to intrigue and fascinate every time you flip through its pages.

Motivation and inspiration for creating 2nd Stories

As a boy growing up in Fowler and Lafayette, I was interested in what I could see by looking up. For it was overhead that I noticed interesting details made of wood, brick, iron, stone, or terra-cotta on downtown buildings and neighborhood homes. I was equally captivated, from an early age, with what lay behind those street-side facades, in upper floors and attics that were probably empty, but just might contain something unexpected.

As I grew older, I realized how much upper-level building details, and rarely entered upper-level spaces (my Grandfather's attic, for example), not only captured my imagination, but significantly enriched my life. They sparked an appreciation for the unusual and well-made—especially if created by talented artisans and craftsmen—and they fed a curiosity to explore enticing places that, while relatively near at hand, had been totally dismissed as irrelevant by others.

It was precisely because things are often unnoticed on, and in, second (or third, or fourth) stories, that I felt I needed to photograph what I could find in such lofty unsung places. I know the resulting images will make viewers realize how much they’ve missed, by having their visual world limited to ground level. Perhaps, it will even inspire them to start looking up, and expand their horizons in ways they could never have predicted.

2nd Stories is OUT-OF-PRINT and no longer available.
8.5" x 10" trade paperback, 144 pages, ISBN 0-9745186-2-X

The Journey...

As Lynn and I were driving around southern Indiana, looking for cemetery statues for our Guardians of the Soul book, we visited dozens of towns we’d never even heard of. Some were thriving, others were on the decline, but we had a great deal of fun seeing the varied places fellow Hoosiers called home. Whenever we passed through a community we’d not been to before, our eyes would often be drawn to the tops of buildings, which were less likely to have been remodeled over the years. We saw all sorts of quirky architectural details, interesting stone columns with delicately carved capitals, beautiful arch-topped windows, sometimes even faces carved in stone. After admiring so many treasures, it didn’t take us long to decide to feature them in our next book. Lynn came up with a perfect title, 2nd Stories, a Hoosier photographer explores what’s upstairs, on top, and overhead. We knew the book should contain more than just fascinating exterior details—it also would include interesting stairways, and the insides of attics. After examining a state highway map, we decided to drive through every single town in southern Indiana, looking up. It was a daunting task, but what we found was absolutely amazing—and unbelievably varied.

I shot cornices, chimneys, skylights, gingerbread, cupolas on barns and schools, clock towers, steeples, even telescopes. And model airplanes with six-foot wingspans atop steel poles, railroad signals, electrical towers, cranes, the giant clock on the roof of the Colgate-Palmolive plant in New Albany, a beautiful Art Deco bus station in Evansville. There were bridges of iron and steel, some in use, some not, including a few spanning the Wabash River that once spun like lazy Susans to allow river traffic to pass—and a wooden aqueduct in Metamora for the Whitewater Canal. We found interesting signs, carved in stone, painted on brick, formed of metal, advertising ice cream, a mobile home court, Mail Pouch, Coca-Cola, Rock City, Meramec Caverns, owners of buildings, and construction dates. And there were decorative lion heads, eagles, statues of children and saints, and fascinating views through windows.

We were especially pleased to be allowed access into attics. Special permission from the Board of Directors was granted to photograph the attic storage space above the Working Men’s Institute in New Harmony, where we found old farm implements, stuffed animals, racks of books, typewriters, and busts of unknown people. A local banker unlocked the door for us so we could explore the long-defunct Knights of Pythias Lodge in Shelbyville, which had a magnificent chandelier still illuminating the third-floor ballroom. The County Clerk had us sign a liability release before we could climb up inside the dome of Monroe County’s Courthouse, to be almost startled to death when the bell went off. We were allowed into the attics of the courthouse in Greenfield, the Civil-War-era Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Children’s Home in Knightstown, and the Merom Institute—which has the tallest freestanding spiral stairway in the state, an amazing piece of craftsmanship. I also photographed decrepit stairways in abandoned houses and schools, a beautifully restored ornate winding one in the Johnson County Courthouse, rusting wrought-iron fire escapes, and escape tubes that looked like they’d be great fun to slide down.

We explored a 19th-century doctor’s surgery on the second floor of a building in downtown Carslisle, dark and dreary jail cells in Morgantown, and the sumptuous Masonic Lodge in Bedford. A charming nun gave us a tour of the ornate Monastery Immaculate Conception in Ferdinand, and a friendly brother took us through St. Meinrad’s Archabbey. I shot the intricate roof structures of round barns; a two-story-tall mechanical wooden hay press, one of only a dozen left in the country; the inside of a beautifully crafted, domed, brick-making kiln in Medora; a defunct foundry in Columbus; and the ruin of a lime-burning kiln in Milltown.

In the midst of our project, we were very fortunate to have Michael Atwood agree to write our new book’s Foreword. As the long-time host of PBS’ “Across Indiana,” Michael shared our enchantment with the wonderful treasures to be found in small towns and on little-traveled back roads. He wrote about being fascinated with abandoned cars and farm machinery, the wonders that exist just about everywhere if we take the time to look, the beauty of the everyday, the discarded.

By the time Lynn and I had visited each of the 912 Indiana cities and towns lying south of U.S. 40 on the highway map, we knew exploring Indiana was our destiny. It was an extremely rewarding experience.