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WHS library/media specialist publishes book on abandoned places

Photo of book cover

Woodstock High School library/media specialist Lisa Beard spends weekdays surrounded by history books, but she knows better than most that history can also be found in places where no one has bothered to look.

Since she was a child in Wonder Lake, Beard has had a fascination with abandoned buildings. She combined that obsession with her passion for photography and her former English teacher training to author her first book “Abandoned Illinois: Secrets Behind the Spaces.”

Photo of Lisa Beard Beard’s social media followers have long known about her interest as documented in hauntingly beautiful photos from places she’s visited that haven’t been touched in decades — former manufacturing plants, homes overgrown by forests, a deserted Army depot, even a shuttered prison are among the settings for the stunning images.

“I’ve liked abandoned things since I was a kid. I used to wander into places, and I always wondered what happened there and who was there before,” Beard said. “There’s a lot of beauty in abandoned things, even when they’re falling apart — just like in people.”

Beard said she soon learned of a community of like-minded individuals who will share locations of these abandoned treasures once they’ve established trust that the places won’t be destroyed by their visits.

“You drive by things and don’t even notice them, but there are telltale signs,” Beard said.

She’s fallen through rotten decking, stepped on rusty nails and bumped into squatters or stray dogs on occasion, but Beard said she’s learned to be cautious and has occasionally brought friends and former students along on her adventures.

Findings include newspapers from the 1893 Columbian Exposition in Chicago, articles about the 1930s World Series matchups between the Cubs and the Yankees and books signed by Civil War generals.

Researching locations to satiate her history curiosity was also part of the hobby, which came in handy when a representative of Arcadia Publishing contacted her about a potential book after seeing her images on her blog and Instagram feed. 

“I thought it was a joke at first, but it wasn’t,” she said.

After three years of compilation and editing, “Abandoned Illinois: Secrets Behind the Spaces” was released on Jan. 28. It’s available at Read Between the Lynes in Woodstock on the Square, online at, and online on the Arcadia and Fonthill Publishing websites. Read Between the Lynes on the Woodstock Square will host a book release and signing event from 6 to 8:30 p.m. on Tuesday, March 5. 

Beard also has a deal with Arcadia for two more books including a second volume on abandoned Illinois and a third featuring Wisconsin locations. 

While her photography has been displayed around the country including her “Yellow Glove Series,” Beard said she is excited about her first published book, news of which she only recently shared with her students.

The 1997 Woodstock High School graduate said many people are surprised to learn of her artistic side. In the past, Beard was best known as an exceptional softball pitcher and basketball player who is a member of the WHS Athletic Hall of Fame.

But she’s no secret in the photography community where she’s shot everything from senior portraits and fashion to protests and fine art. Her work is frequently displayed in exhibits in Woodstock, Harvard, Chicago and Evanston. This summer, Beard had a backstage pass to shoot artists at Lollapalooza.

The new book was featured this month in Wanderlust — a British travel magazine. Beard said she’s excited about sharing her abandoned places niche with a wider audience.

“I think they can teach us about our culture, about people who’ve lived before us. They can also teach us that there’s more to something than just what it looks like on the outside,” Beard said.