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Abandonedamerica.us February 2012 Mailbag

Posted: 27th February 2012
Time for another abandonedamerica.us mailbag section!

"of all your adventures, what site stands out as the over-all coolest?" - Dave M.

Thanks for the question, Dave. It''s actually kind of hard to say because there are so many spots that I''ve loved so much. I don''t know that I could pick one, or even three. Even in categories it''s tough, but I''ll try to sort it that way.

Of the churches I''ve been to, I think the Church of the Transfiguration in Philadelphia is a clear favorite, and the devotion most people who went there have for it surpasses any other building on my site. Of the power plants, Portside Power Plant when I first visited it 5-6 years ago (before scrappers and vandals got to it) is probably the best, due to the unbelievable scale and grandeur of the turbine hall. A close second is Baltimore Gas and Electric''s Westport Station; the furnace room, railroad running around the top of the plant, and mammoth turbine halls were fantastic. With industrial sites it''s almost impossible to choose since they vary so much. The Hollely Bros. Clothing Factory was astonishing before the sewing machines were scrapped, though my pictures are pretty dated and need improvement. There are a great number of others I like equally though, industrial sites are impossible to choose from. For hospitals, Ellis Island was pretty hard to beat and a very hard to access spot. For jails, the Essex County Jail Annex was a favorite although I''ve really liked a number of those also. For asylums, try Algonquin River State Hospital. For schools, Julia de Burgos was right up there. I think the 309th Aerospace Maintenance and Generation Group (AMARG) should be on the list too. There are many more but there''s a good start!

Have you ever been too spooked by a place to go through with exploring it? - Lauren C.
"What is the scariest thing that''s ever happened to you?" - Tabitha R.

To answer the first question, it depends on how you mean spooked. There have been a fair amount of times I''ve aborted photography trips for fear of getting in trouble, both before and during. This is never fun and often very frustrating but I do think part of wisdom is knowing when to walk away from a bad situation. Once, after a long day of photography in one of the worst-decayed places I''ve ever been to, the Setting Sun Retirement Home, I went into the third floor of a very large apartment/storefront building that had been closed for almost 30 years. The windows were boarded and it was pitch black inside. Doors on the lower floors were welded shut. As I left the flop house kitchen I came in at, the floor was very spongy and I could see that the one end of the hallway twisted unnaturally downwards into inky blackness. I went the other way and saw that the main staircase had collapsed on itself down all three floors and had left an enormous hole in that area. Since I was by myself, had no cell phone reception, couldn''t navigate the building further, and was concerned about falling through the floor and being stuck in a building nobody could even get into when nobody knew I was there, I decided perhaps it was time to leave. That sort of spooked, I have been. But I don''t know if this is what you''re asking about. These were practical decisions made based on an assessment of the safety level of the situation and a realization that I should not push my luck any further.

If you''re asking whether I have been so afraid at a place due to overall creepiness that I left, no, I have not. I''ve been creeped out plenty of times and have considered leaving several of them, but I can''t justify leaving a location unless it is based on a clear, concrete reason for doing so. I remember on one solo trip being in a very decayed morgue in a children''s hospital and realizing that the dirt on the floor was strewn with children''s glasses. The fact that I was standing in the middle of a bunch of dead kid''s glasses in the dark basement of the building was really unsettling, but I didn''t leave the site (although I have no good pictures of the glasses, sadly).

In fact, many times when I do have clear, concrete reasons to leave a place I don''t leave. As a segue into Tabitha''s question, quite possibly the creepiest thing was when I went into a building on an institution''s campus and found this:

Yes. Exactly.

There was blood all over the floor and ceiling that was very much still wet. The picture on the left is straight out of the camera and the one on the right has had HDR processing so that the lighting is even and you can see it better. Blood was sprayed over the ceiling and floor in both the hallway and this room. I was with a friend and we debated on what to do. We thought at the time that because there were some construction supplies that perhaps someone had been injured while doing some work. What else could it be? Was it fake? The blood did look very convincing, and it even appeared to be coagulating in places. If it had been an animal sacrifice, who would take the animal with them instead of leaving it? We had no idea but the scene was very unnerving. So, what did we do? We went around the other buildings on campus and took pictures for the rest of the day. This may have been an unwise decision but we had come a long way and didn''t want to just leave. Later, another friend pointed out that I might have walked through the scene of a murder, since there were two points where blood was sprayed everywhere instead of one. Usually, in an accident you wouldn''t have two different separate areas that a substantial amount of blood was lost and in such a dramatic way. I grew increasingly paranoid about this - what if someone had been hurt? What if police saw my footprints or fingerprints around it? After playing CSI with the pictures and fretting for a day or two I went to a pay phone (those still existed then) and called the area''s police department. I asked to speak with the Sheriff and told him what I had seen. He laughed and told me that a film had recently been shot there. Much relieved, I hung up knowing that it was not in fact a crime scene. Anti-climactic? Perhaps, but I''m glad it wasn''t actually from something being butchered in the building.

So, basically, no, I do not leave when I am just creeped out. Even if there is a very valid reason to be.

"How do you get IN to all these places? Sneak? Permission?" - Amy M.

This is the easiest question of them all to answer: yes. I do both. I will not cause any property damage but I have been known to sneak. Permission is a good route to go also. It depends a lot on the situation! I usually look for the path of with the best chance for success and that varies greatly from place to place. I''ve had many successes and failures at each.

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