Return To Sender

Written by Concrete on . Posted in Gary, Institutional, Residential

We started off with some lofty plans for Gary, seeing the schools and Screw and Nail that I hadn’t been to yet, but between the late arrival, the surprising September heat, and not having slept much all weekend our eventual strategy consisted of exploring everything in sight. The next thing we saw after the half theater was the post office, and the door was still open, so in we went.

Either I didn’t notice all this last time or it’s new:

…and perhaps still in progress?

The robots came and destroyed any need for this facility. At one time there would have been well over a hundred mail sorters employed here, making sure letters to and from Chicago, and around the nation, found their way to the right place. Are the robots better? Probably…

This room is an installation art piece that is frustratingly hard to get into a picture: it’s full of elaborately, randomly networked orange thread, like the web of a giant, tripping spider.

Maybe I wouldn’t be #foreveralone if I met Jenny instead of Sean… this must have been quite the wedding.

By this time, all that was really left was surrender. Looking for anywhere to go seemed like too much effort, all we wanted was Chicago pizza, the plane ride home, and a bed. So we went to the closest thing we could find, once again: The Ambassadors. From what I can find about the history of this place, it was NOT where the executives of US Steel lived when they were in Gary, but it was one of the nicer hotels in town in its time, before being converted to apartments in the 60s, and declining with the rest of the city. Structural issues were eventually the building’s undoing, being one of the rare ones condemned before it was abandoned, the last residents forced out in 2003. Mostly due to a notable lack of windows on the eighth floor, and the resulting water damage, the structure has only gotten worse since then, with the stairways in a state of inconsistent disrepair, and many of the wooden floors in the apartments spongy with wet rot.

Ever wanted to fall through a set of stairs? Now is your chance…

Navy Blues

Written by Concrete on . Posted in Albany, Industrial, Institutional, Memphis

Once we got out of the power plant, the rest of Amsterdam was more or less a bust. Without cars, or a solid idea of where we were going, the best we could do was guess and look around, wandering from one seemingly derelict building to another without finding any of them quite dead enough. We eventually settled for a stop at a bar downtown, and waiting for our bus to Albany and onward.

The bus finally arrived about half an hour late, and thoroughly packed, besides being the last one of the day. The driver wanted to leave us, and a few other travelers, stranded in Amsterdam but with some palavering he agreed to let us on even though there were no seats. As soon as the bus started moving, we were serenaded to “Fat Bottomed Girls”, belted out by, well, a fat-bottomed girl. The next 45 minutes consisted of “only in America” weirdness that would make even less sense in the written word as it did at the time. Once that was over, we did get to Albany though, and went to a Thai restaurant I’d eaten at a few times before, then on a bus to Watervliet for a night explore at AlTech Steel.

As soon as we got to AlTech, something felt wrong. It was one of those explores for me where I just started going through the motions, didn’t even bother to take a single picture the whole time (all of a few minutes) that we were there, and as ennui as I felt, Ben was downright creeped out by the place, all he wanted was a few shots from the roof, and I couldn’t find the way up, all the paths between the buildings consumed by night and summertime growth. That and maybe I was a bit too sober for AlTech, I’d never been there even remotely close to sober.

So we disposed of the rest of the night waiting too long at the bus station, then going to New York, and from there to Newark, and a plane to Atlanta, and another plane to Memphis. This was supposed to be the highlight of our trip: a rare tour of Memphis Marine Hospital, a more or less untouched and unexplored complex just south of downtown on the Mississippi River. We arrived at the hospital to the typical Southern hospitality, a table set out in front to welcome us, and an open door to explore as we pleased!

And it was everything I could have hoped for, even if I found myself there with an inert brick of a camera, and a point and shoot I’d just bought in Albany…

It only took me a few minutes to discover that my camera woes weren’t over. As if I didn’t have enough trouble already, the battery on this thing lasted maybe 1/10 as long as my actual camera, and it started spontaneously shutting off after every shot.

And then, having seen just half of one building, that camera failed completely, and of course, being an abandoned building, there wasn’t a working outlet to be found.

I was reduced to a smartphone for my photo-taking abilities. Not exactly my brightest moment. I should be better at this living in the Instagram generation but I’ve never really tried to take serious phone photos. Some people can do amazing things with an Android — for that matter some people can do amazing things with a camera and I manage mediocre things. Oh well.

Given the situation, I felt like it was my obligation to take a selfie.

This must have gone over so well in a Navy hospital?

School of Fail

Written by Concrete on . Posted in Gary, Institutional

After our legendary Gary winning streak, the only thing left we were looking for was a school. We tried a few on the east side on the first day, but not with very much luck. It seemed like the boarding crew were there not too long ago, and the only people in since were climbers who made entrances that would probably last a while, but also excluded less athletic explorers. We did some research into why the schools might be so tough, and found that the district and state still somewhat maintain them, even though almost half the schools in Gary were abandoned… the difference is clear between these and the city’s degree of wanton neglect, and strategy of waiting for buildings to fall in on themselves instead of securing or demolishing them. So we decided to try the one that UER had plastered all over the internet last month, and found just what we didn’t want to see: brand new boards, and a mildly suspicious cop making the rounds waiting for us to try to break something.

The last school on our list, in a desolate south side neighborhood, finally gave us what we were looking for: a wide open front door swinging in the snow. Of course we went in…

Judging by the computers, it looks like this place closed around 2000 or so… or maybe later considering how much schools invest into technology just as it’s going obsolete.

And around that corner, after exploring just part of one wing, we were surrounded by the sweet sound of success:



We went back out to the car to see if anything happened. It really didn’t, maybe 15 minutes later, one of Gary’s laziest drove by slowly and apathetically, ignoring the open door and still blaring alarm, and that was it.

We probably should have gone in, but we decided to just go home, maybe it wasn’t our day. Not that we cared when we got into 17 places, and only failed at two, both schools… that’s better than we could do probably anywhere else, even Detroit. I’m not sure if or when I’d make it back here, but I really want to!

Politics and Religion

Written by Concrete on . Posted in Gary, Institutional, Religious

…seem to be the biggest business left in this town, other than the rotting, but still partially operational, US steel mill fouling up the lakeshore. That being said, it hasn’t exactly been the best territory for the Republicans, who seem to have closed up shop and left sometime in the 90s, leaving behind an incongruously cluttered headquarters between the post office and the state office building. Half campaign office and half hoarder den, the place avoided having its windows smashed in long enough to develop an oppressive odor of mildew wafting off the soaking, rotting contents.

The main candidate, eternally losing one city and state legislative race after another, was Charles Kirkland, whose cheaply Xeroxed campaign matter fills most of the basement to this day. This particular box of “Kirkland Bucks” promoted a tax cut he promised to push through if he managed to win a city council seat in 1987.

It’s the upstairs though that really defies expectations, filled with rotting clothing and musical instruments, including two and a half grand, and one upright, pianos.

Anyone have any better guesses what was going on here, besides a politician with a penchant for hoarding?

The exterior has a faded Red Cross banner, but I’m not sure if or how that fits into the late decline of the building, I wouldn’t be surprised if that was before the candidates took it over.

And as soon as we left there, we could see yet another abandoned building not so far away (of course). This one used to be the auditorium for Gary schools, and I suspect also something of a civic space, until most of it collapsed and was demolished in 2005, leaving only the lobby.

The most significant part left are the pair of grand entrance stairways that would have led into the theater, were there still a theater attached.

Instead, it just ends here, a field of bramble brush taking over for the gallery and stage.

From there, after a failed attempt at the newspaper building across the street (which might still be active), we connected the dots one block to the other side, to some clearly burned out church-like buildings.

The number of churches in this town, both active and abandoned, is startling. When people lose all hope in their lives, do they find God? Then to lose faith in Him too, leaving behind ever smaller churches as the flock begins to fly away.

This particular church is close to meeting its benefactor…

It probably won’t be long at all until the sanctuary falls in on itself.

Some of the pews and a piano have even fallen into the basement already. Seeing this was enough to make me leave!

[continued in part 5]

Hippo Campus

Written by Concrete on . Posted in Fuck It Tour, Institutional, Philadelphia

If the last few trips had unusual beginnings, this one was absolutely weird… starting on the bus ride home from Cincinnati, I began to get unsolicited calls from apparent explorers (caller ID blocked, of course) telling me to go to Philly next weekend for some mysterious UER party. Of course, this being the Fuck It Tour, I obliged; the goal, after all, has been to explore a new area every weekend, and meet new people, who might be part of my comeback, and whoever these strange characters were, it seemed as it might be in my best interest to meet them. Obviously they could be setting a trap, but I’d be more likely to trust people I didn’t know, than people I know, in the UE scene. So, to reduce the odds of getting screwed, I made conflicting plans, both in Philly, and decided I’d go with whoever showed up first, then regardless of what I did during the day, show up to the mystery party.

About an hour after I got to Philly, surprisingly, Christian and Melba actually showed up, and we decided on one of their favorite places, Embreeville State Hospital, or something about a hippo. I never saw any hippos there, must be the wrong time of year.

After what seemed like an impossibly long tunnel from the entrance, we emerged into the main (or perhaps only) building abandoned by the hospital, apparently a school for disabled or mentally unstable children.

I wonder if this is where the hippo used to be?

Someone tagged Kings Park up with “URBEX” all over everything. Here, they had the wonderful idea of putting “UER” in the middle of the wall, like it’s some gang tag or something. Which I guess it kind of is.

How the hell is this bathtub full? Did someone actually bring water in for a photo, since there isn’t any plumbing left…

…and then we noticed security starting to circle around and found our way back into the tunnel and out of here. But the fact remained, only a few months after I thought I’d never get to explore an asylum, this was my fifth in a year, and finally a place I’ve been that the UER types are going on about. Even if I never got the chance to ride the hippo.

Call It A Comeback

Written by Concrete on . Posted in Fuck It Tour, Institutional, New York City

Between the disastrous start in Cincinnati and a similarly fruitless trip to Binghamton (where at least I had people, but no places to go, and forgot my camera on top of it all), things weren’t exactly looking great for my Fuck It Tour by the time I got a last minute invitation to meet a real explorer and check out a few places. Once I was convinced he was more than just a legendary troll, I booked my ticket and took my chances, arriving in New York on one of the coldest mornings of the year, and finding my host in Brooklyn after just one wrong turn in the subway system, in his Brooklyn apartment he shared with some wonderfully gregarious chihuahuas.

Waiting would be the order of the day… I thought we would spend most of our time exploring, but first we’d have to wait for everyone I was supposed to meet to be accounted for, and then beyond that, for the one person with a car to finally come in from New Jersey — only 6 hours after I got there, we were finally ready though, and went to the one New York City location “at my level”: the Staten Island Farm Colony. It’s about as trashed as places can get, and out of the way enough to probably be the only place we would go all day, but at least it’s something.

Even here… UER truly does rule the exploring world.

A wild explorer appears! (This alone is a huge improvement over my last few trips…)

Every building looks about the same. As far as asylums go, this isn’t a highlight by any means.

At least we had a beautiful winter hour to see it before it got dark (and we still missed most of the property, let alone the hospital across the street)

I think the roofs were the best part, actually.

The rest of the weekend was more or less a disaster. A few other people had plans to meet up with me, but I couldn’t reach any of them, and spent the rest of Saturday and most of Sunday sitting around waiting, wasting my time in New York, at least in terms of exploring. I hardly even care though. I found people to meet up with, went there, explored, and came back. And the way things have gone lately, that’s more than I should ever have hoped for. And I get to do it all again next week!