26 June, 2011
After a visit to a gun show, we made our way to the Urbex objective of the day. The York County Prison was built in 1906 and closed operation in 1979.
During its tenure in operation. There was talk of overcrowding, racial problems, abuse, and during a two week period inmates were supposedly fed nothing but venison of road kill deer brought in by guards.
Since 1982 a couple has owned the property, and have unsuccessfully tried to turn the property into various business ventures to include shops, apartments, and restaurants. In 2007 the owners put the property up for sale for a mere 3.9 million dollars.
Much to our chagrin, it appeared that all entry points have been recently upgraded. Sadly, no interior shots on this trip. On the bright side, the site is not far from home base. So we will have further opportunities to check the site out and possibly get photos from the inside.
25 June, 2011
1. Why? The reasons for undertaking a strange hobby like Urban Exploration are as varied as the people that partake. I know in my own experience it is a combination of the thrill of getting into an abandoned area and out again without getting busted and the beauty of decay.
Some of these sites have only been abandoned a few years, yet mother nature has already made inroads in reclaiming the land. Seeing the process, from peeling paint to total collapse, is part of the excitement. Finding artifacts left behind from when the site was occupied and active is also fun.
Others I have talked to say it is the striking images that you can capture. A site may look different with each visit. Lighting, season, and the advancement of decay will change the "feel" of a site. As i take more photos, I am leaning in this direction now more than ever.
2. Souvenirs. Generally, the rule is to leave only footprints behind and take only photographs. Despite being abandoned, anything left behind is still "owned" by the property owners. Some sites like a nearby hospital is loaded with artifacts in almost every building. With subsequent visits, I have noticed only minimal movement of items.
3. Access. Some explorers have no problem doing a little work to gain entry into a site. The difference between walking in through an open door or climbing in through an open window and busting a lock to get in is not only a matter of semantics and ethics. If luck should run out and you do get caught. That splitting of hairs could be the difference between a ticket for trespassing and a trip to the police station with a charge of breaking and entering.
Let's make no mistake. In a property crazed culture, ever notice all the no trespassing signs on everything? This hobby is right on the razors edge of the law. I have (knock on wood) never been busted outright. Many explorers find it crazy that a building that has sat empty and unused for 10,15,20 years or more will have security cameras or even a security guard keeping watch.
I personally could understand if the site presented some extreme hazard to life and limb, but only then. There is a site in North-East Oklahoma (two abandoned towns) that with the combination of subsidence hazards (sink holes opening suddenly), toxic chat piles from the mines, and other chemical hazards. I can understand keeping a tight lid on a place like that.
If you decide to go on an urbex it is at your own risk. Urbexers have been mugged and murdered, others have been hit by trains and killed. I know of several that have gotten seriously ill by going into tunnels that had oxygen displacing gasses. They were extremely lucky to make it out alive. Recently I was physically attacked by a homeless man that was clearly suffering from mental illness. This leads me to my next point.
4. Gut reaction. Police call it a "hunch", others instinct. When on an urbex, I keep tuned in to my instincts. If it feels like it is time to go. Get the hell out of there. If a certain basement or dark hallway feels "wrong", turn around. Humans do have an instinctive sense. In many cases people are so numb to it they walk into bad situations for no reason. Listen to that little voice.
The bottom line is to live to fight another day. The site can usually be revisited. There is no need to risk your skin for anything, much less a hobby. A good "hack" or exploration is one where there is no "close calls".
I also like to leave a little unexplored. Give yourself a reason to return.
24 June, 2011
Once outfitted with all the proper gear and attire. Now it is time to get to a site. Many of the greatest urbexes are ones found quite by mistake out wandering around.
1. Research. In order to have a successful (read "uneventful") exploration of a site. Often times a little research can reap rewards. You can get the history of a site through a little internet searching. When did it open? When did it close? What is the current status? Soon to be sold? Is it a Superfund cleanup site? Is it guarded? How is it guarded? Knowing about the site can not only save you a hassle, and possibly even your life. Superfund sites are toxic and can be very hazardous.
The internet is a primary source. Back in the day, a search of old newspapers on microfilm at the library or the City records was necessary.
2. Recon. To me, the lowest level of a hack. No entry of a building this time. This is the next step (if the site is close to home) after research. It is a flyby to check on possible entry points, check for any security (people are SO suspicious these days). Also it is good to look for a place to leave your vehicle where it is not obtrusive. Nothing worse than walking out to find the police waiting next to your car.
3. Ingress. Getting into a site is not a matter of waltzing in. Part of the fun for me is getting in unseen, even by other urbexers. Also, a slow steady approach will allow you to see if there is anyone else already there. Many times, I have heard others well before I saw them, by moving quietly. I am certain they had no idea we were even there. I tend to move slowly and deliberately for that reason.
4. Solo or Team? The largest group I will go on an exploration is four people. Any larger is to invite unwanted attention. Solo exploration can be dangerous. If injured and unable to move, how long until you are found? If confronted by hostile people you have back up.
I tend to lean strongly towards a two person team. Quiet and quick, you have a second set of eyes with you. You have someone to share discovery with. I have been on explorations with best friends, and with Mrs. Voodoo Lady. Solo hacks are that much more dangerous. I have undertaken them before, but now do not advise them until you have been at this for a while.
5. Egress. leaving the site and walking back to your vehicle is the most dangerous time. I believe that this is when most busts happen. As the exploration wears on, it is human nature to relax, you just had a good time exploring and most people want to talk. As people relax, their guard drops. I try to keep my situational awareness sharp. Stay alert, stay focused. It is a fun hobby, but the pitfalls and hazards are there. Celebrate when you are actually driving away and clear of the site.
6. LEOs. Law enforcement. Sooner or later, this hobby can lead to contact with law enforcement under less than optimal circumstances. First, DO NOT RUN. Only guilty people run. You also can add to possible charges if you try to evade police after getting spotted. Second, be honest. They most likely already know why you are there. No reason to make things worse. If they see you only have a camera, not spray paint and booze. They will know you are just one of those "exploration nuts" and not a vandal or arsonist. Often times, these sites will have overlapping usage with other "types" of people. It is helpful to differentiate yourself from them (therefore do not have booze or spray paint, etc. with you). Third, DON'T ARGUE. They have the ability to make your life hell. There is no need to provoke them further. Be polite, be courteous.
Usually you will just be told to get out of there quickly. Worst case, you may get a ticket for trespassing. As long as you do not give them a reason to go further than that.
Now, If I see the cops before they see me. I usually sit tight and wait them out or leave in a different direction to get off of the property quick if they are actively looking for us.
Next post, Urban exploration philosophy.
This is a rather broad subject to cover in one post, but I have had some questions as to the whys and hows of the hobby. This post will cover gear and attire. I have well over 20 years in this particular hobby and have had great success (no injuries or legal troubles). I hope that qualifies me to make some points.
There are many schools of thought on this. Some explorers go very lightweight to be able to move fast. Others look like they are making their final pitch to summit Everest! My gear changes depending on where I am exploring, the season, and the weather.
1. Cell Phone. This is an indispensable piece of gear. Besides the obvious (being able to call for help), We use our phones to look up information on the site, Google Earth for a "predator drone" view of the surrounding roads, etc. To get into and away from a site. Newer phone cameras also can capture images almost as good as a regular camera.
2. Small Knife. Many other explorers frown on carrying weapons of any sort. If you are caught, carrying anything that could be misconstrued as a weapon or a B&E tool. Your trespassing charge will morph into something way worse. A small knife is enough to get the job done, but not end up getting charged with anything serious. The laws are different depending on where you are exploring. A legal pocket knife in one area is a concealed weapon in another. Check your local laws concerning weapons and trespassing while you are at it.
3. Flashlight. Most of the time, abandoned buildings will not have power, while newer abandoned structures may have power, water and alarm systems. If exploring a large complex such as a school, hospital or other large structure, there will be many dark nooks and crannies. I personally carry one of a few surefire lights I own and spare batteries. They are much brighter than a regular flashlight and are very portable.
4. Proper Attire. Urban exploration is NOT the place for flip-flops or "nice" clothes. Sturdy boots (work or combat) are best. Hiking shoes are good as well. Some say no shorts, but that is up to the individual. I wear shorts, but am very conscious of my surroundings. I also keep my tetanus shots up to date.
I go with neutral colors such as black, brown, green and grey. I also do not go "tactical" with head to foot camouflage unless it is a very rural hack. Someone may see you and report you as a terrorist or militia nut. I also wear a hat, there is a lot of crap flying around and better to keep it out of ones hair. The purpose is to blend in to the surroundings and not stand out.
Another consideration is respirators or filter masks. Many of these buildings contain asbestos, mold, animal (bird) droppings, lead, medical waste and industrial waste. I have been to sites that have abandoned chemicals in large quantities, as well as sites used as dumping grounds by others. You never know what you will run into. Protecting your respiration is paramount. You do not want this hobby to kill you down the road! This is also where research comes into play. If the site was left to rot due to high levels of dioxin (which causes cancer). One may not want to go running around in that site.
5. Rations. I have been on urbexes that have taken less than 15 minutes and some that have lasted nearly all day long. Depending on the weather and length of the exploration. I take either a canteen or camelbak with water and several power bars. My truck will also have some snacks and drinks after a successful egress from the site. As a side note, wet wipes or purell in ones camera bag or pack is a good idea.
6. Camera. Why go through all the trouble of getting to an abandoned site, and not take photos? I used to be part of the small and easily carried crowd. I got great shots from a simple and inexpensive point and shoot. Currently I carry a great DSLR camera that allows me to do more than I could with a smaller camera. This item is a personal preference.
7. Maps. In the era of cheap GPS systems, a even more simple map of the site you are exploring (if available) can help you get into and away from a site. GPS systems fail, batteries die. A printed map will not.
Other urbexers carry items like hard hats, rope, climbing gear etc. The point is to tailor your kit to the site you are going to explore. If I was going into a series of catacombs, or a storm drain system. Then more specialized gear would be called for, like a map of the system, and a hard hat with miners light even atmospheric testing gear (for toxic levels of oxygen displacing gas that will kill you in seconds if entered into).
Every urbex team, and individual will develop what they think is appropriate. With time and experience, you will be able to determine what is right for you.
Next post: Tactics of a successful exploration
23 June, 2011
Today I had a little time to kill and Voodoo Lady was off to the city early to work some overtime. I decided that it was a perfect opportunity to get out of the haus and go visit a site that I had passed several times previously.
The house was securely padlocked, and most of the large windows had plastic sheeting hung inside the windows. It appears that the farm was recently inhabited, perhaps the past several years. Someone still mows the grass around the house. There is a somberness to the farm. I cant help but feel like something bad happened here. I have been to many many abandoned places, schools, hospitals, asylums, etc. Only one other time have I had a similar feeling when whecking out a site.
The farmhouse is in Northern Maryland between Mt. Airy and Taneytown. With a little renovation, this could be an awesome house.
22 June, 2011
Since I have an M2 mortar for reenacting and my personal collection. I have been acquiring inert original rounds.
This one is an illumination round. Once fired, a parachute magnesium flare is ignited. The tail cone is usually the only part left.
The round has a range of 800-1000 yards. It can illuminate an area 984 feet in diameter. It has a limited burn time, but is effective at exposing enemy movement or identification of personnel.
This is also an excuse to use my new D-7000 Nikon camera.
20 June, 2011
Today, my little corner of the interwebs crossed an interesting milestone.
15,000 individual page views since Blogger started counting a few years ago. Now, I am aware that I am most likely well past this mark since I started writing several years earlier.
Still, it is somewhat comforting to know that someone is reading what I put down on "paper" so to speak. It all started as a way to write home from Afghanistan and later Iraq. I could communicate to many people at once. This aspect still may come to the fore. When I deploy again, the original concept is back online.
Beyond the original idea. I have found that writing has helped to calm PTSD symptoms and quell the stress of modern life. The blog has since morphed into a travel/adventure/road trip/urban exploration tome. Mainly in an effort to "fill in" the time between deployments.
I also get to exhibit my modest photography skill. I hope to acquire a more "professional" camera in the near future. I also hope that my writing improves and I can continue to spill random musings and travels out into written form.
In addition to the outstanding "Psychopathic Building" there are a number of other great structures around the campus. It is also a semi-open facility like Springfield, so access is easier in some ways. One can hide in plain sight, park amongst other vehicles et cetera and go unnoticed. The downside is gaining access to the buildings is harder, the chance of discovery increases.
I am always fascinated by the "anti-climb" fences. Unless you are Spiderman, there is no way to get over them. The best ones are chain link, then the upper part is a smaller mesh that a person cannot get a hand or foothold on. No barbed wire is necessary, in fact injury of a patient is the last thing the staff would want.
Spring Grove also had a military ammunition style bunker. It was clearly used by grounds keeping/maintenance staff for storage.
The final touch was when we noticed the "Asylum Lane" road sign. Perfect.
Since Springfield is only semi-closed. The grounds are still maintained. This has a positive and negative effect. Positively, it is easy to move around and there are no worries about ticks. Negatively, it takes away a lot of the concealment necessary to infiltrate a site.
These buildings are is relatively good shape. Some of the porches are collapsing and paintwork is peeling. Other than that, they are almost still in good enough condition to reoccupy.
To me, the exterior shots are less interesting than interior shots. They do show the overall condition of the buildings. Henryton's damage, the overgrown weeds of Forest Haven, etc.
Another odd feature is what looks like ammunition bunkers in places on the campus. I worked in and around weapons magazines in the Navy and am well aware of what they look like and their purpose. Why are they on a facility for the mentally challenged? I have found no evidence of military usage of the Springfield State Hospital grounds.
19 June, 2011
Spring Grove is the second oldest psychiatric facility still operating in the United States.
The security (for now) makes this site too hot to enter without risking too much heat from the fuzz. We agreed it would be foolhardy to risk our clearances and jobs for a little adventure.
Sooner or later this building will be hacked by us. Apparently others have been inside and made it back out. The site seems to be occupied by a large amount of feral cats (see shot through front door, that is a cat running away). I am sure there are enough rats and mice inside to keep the cats well fed.
Today was a perfect day for some Urban Exploration. We decided to hit up Springfield after stumbling upon it last time.
On a ten point scale, Springfield is an eight easily. The amount of activity (to include the Maryland State Police Academy) makes it a bit of a difficult hack. We managed to enter three buildings with little or no difficulty.
We had potential access to two more, but decided to call it a day. The unwritten rule of urban exploration is knowing when to leave. Firstly to give a reason to return and second to not push ones luck.
Compared to Henryton, this facility is untouched and pristine. It is almost devoid of artifacts unlike Forest Haven.
Next we decided to do a flyby recon of Spring Grove. The only thing that sucks is the amount of security. On the ten point scale, Spring Grove is easily a ten. We decided just to walk around the main building, but were warned off by Spring Grove Campus Police. Apparently even photography of the buildings are not allowed. That did not stop me from getting several more good shots of the exterior.
Photos from Spring Grove will be in a separate post.