Music by VICE

Mike Tyson’s Former Mansion Becomes a Megachurch

The heavyweight’s eerie, vacant estate is being born-again.

by Emily Kirkpatrick
03 October 2015, 2:30pm

All images via Johnny Joo

Mike Tyson once said, “I just want to conquer people and their souls,” and while he’s definitely got the people part covered already, thanks to the Living Word Sanctuary in northern Ohio, the heavyweight boxer might be closer than ever to making that "soul" part of his dream a reality.

Tyson will undoubtedly go down in history, if not for his impressive boxing career, then certainly for a personality both in and out of the ring that has permanently cemented his status as a pop culture icon. But one aspect of Tyson’s tainted legacy is about to get a spiritual makeover all thanks to a church that’s decided to transform the fighter’s sprawling 58-acre former mansion into a center for prayer.

The estate, located in Southington, Ohio, was owned by Tyson in the 80s and 90s during the peak of his success, but was hastily sold in 1999 due to financial issues. The house was then passed down through a number of owners, none of whom ever actually inhabited the space, resulting in a mansion covered in graffiti and left in a serious state of dilapidation. However, the building’s newest owner, Rob Hemelgarn, a health club entrepreneur who purchased the residence from a sheriff’s sale for $600,000, has some heavenly plans for the cavernous dwelling. Hemelgarn donated Tyson’s home to the Living Word Sanctuary with the intention of converting it into a megachurch.

At the moment, Tyson’s former abode stands in pretty serious disrepair; the mirrors ominously reflect an anarchy sign spraypainted across the marble and gold jacuzzi, a boxing glove-shaped pool stands half empty and festering, and floorboards show the first signs of buckling beneath a heavy coat of dust. Johnny Joo, a 25-year-old photojournalist from Ohio, was able to enter the 13,500 square foot space and capture these evocative, derelict scenes before the church came in to make any major renovations.

The photographer told The Huffington Post, "It was just kind of weird knowing that he lived there […] of course it gets you thinking about every room: What was this room used for, what was that room used for, what did he do here, you know?" But Joo’s interest wasn’t just sheer voyeurism, he hoped to also convey a sense of futility and uncanniness through his work, inspiring people to ask themselves, “Why are we leaving all of this abandoned? Why is nobody caring? How do we not know that this is just sitting right here, right in front of our eyes?”

Since Joo captured these images, the Living Word Sanctuary have already begun fixing up the space, filling in the pool which will one day serve as the central worship room, with plans to use the house’s existing features such as the basketball court for picnics and vacation bible school events.

The metamorphosis of the place where Mike Tyson once hung up his gloves at night into a holy House of God won’t necessarily offer any salvation for the soul of the former world champion athlete, but considering the man once claimed to step into the ring with the intention of actually murdering his sparring partners, Tyson could probably use all of the prayers he can get.

Learn more about Johnny Joo's photography here and you can purchase his book Empty Spaces here


Watch a 100,000-Firework War Between Two Churches

A Robotic Church Rises in Red Hook

[Exclusive Photos] Explore Portugal's Churches in These Stunning Vertical Panoramas

Mike Tyson
johnny joo
abandoned photography