This is just another blog about abandoned places. I’ve been into exploring since I was a little kid, when I crawled into a drainage pipe in the creek behind my house in Northern California and was like, “yeah, THIS IS IT.” I spent my youth hanging out at a defunct military base (RIP Skagg’s Island) and getting up to no good in some castle ruins in the hills. I had to put off exploring for a few years due to this, which led to this, neither of which allowed for much free time. When I moved to New York, I picked it up again, however I only started photographing these places within the last few years, and it’s taken me almost a year to get this site started, so for most of 2013/2014, I’ll be posting about places I’ve visited in the past.
I wasn’t sure how to approach the whole thing, since 90% of ‘urban exploring’ writing causes me vicarious embarrassment due to phrases like, “the transcendent beauty of decay,” and “manmade aspirations destroyed by the prodigious forces of nature reclaiming her space.” WOOF. Sure, there is some truth in those ‘first year creative writing class’ sentences, but my objective in exploring stems from a more historical interest. (Speaking of which, I love history so much I started a monthly comic installment about NYC history over at the New Yorker.)
When I visit a location, I do extensive research about its past, the people who were there and the history of the town in which it’s located. For example, the Baker Hotel of Mineral Wells, which is a history that involves the rise and fall of the town’s economy based on dubiously magical mineral water, and the culture of 1940’s advertising and misguided spa treatments for the wealthy. Similarly, the history of Proctor’s Palace Theatre is about the beginning and end of Vaudeville in popular culture, and the town’s history of racism, including the infamous Newark race riots of 1967, and the decline of Newark, New Jersey.
My favorite places to explore are abandoned psychiatric hospitals, as my main interest is the history of mental illness in regards to various treatments based on science and philosophy. I’m fascinated by the medical advances and misconceptions that shaped treatment in the past few hundred years, and how little we know about it even today. I’ve spent countless hours crouched in dark, moldy basements unearthing, reading and photographing patient records dating back to the mid 1800’s in an effort to attain physical evidence of the varied treatments and misdiagnosis of patients. These files show first-hand how the behaviors and characteristics of mental illnesses have changed with cultural, technological, and scientific advances. And yes, I know I could just read some books or use google, which I have, of course, but I like to learn by doing. And I like to see what I’ve read in books and on the internet existing on real paper in real time, and to watch the progression (and sometimes regression) of science and medicine as depicted in doctors’ and psychiatrists’ reports.
Also, being that the majority of information about the history of mental illness is recorded by professionals, I’m curious about the patients’ experiences and opinions, many of which are depicted in letters, transcribed interviews, and diaries that were filed away when they died. These are documents that exist in only one form, and once they’re gone, are unrecoverable. I find it deplorable that there are so many asylum basements filled with historical information and records of peoples’ lives and just rotting away in mold covered boxes until the buildings are inevitably demolished and everything inside destroyed. Just in the past few years of exploring on the east coast, I’ve seen a number of hosptials taken down, and many more put on a demolition list. These asylums are an integral part of scientific and cultural histories, a portion of which are, for lack of a better term, in the hands of people like me. As amateur explorers, we’re untrained, unprofessional lawbreakers who are often afraid to come forward with what we find, for fear of legal repercussions. Even though I don’t run this site anonymously like the majority of urban exploring sites, I am admittedly afraid of getting in trouble, of giving unwanted exposure to active medical campuses or unwittingly causing harm. However I think bringing attention to these asylums and historical files is important, now more than ever, with the rise of contemptible shows about ghost hunting and paranormal activity, which only perpetuate detrimental misconceptions and mythologies of mental illness, both historically and presently.
That said, I’d be remiss if I didn’t acknowledge that I often upload snippets of asylum paperwork and photos of abandoned places to instagram, accompanied by flippant remarks and captions, as well as including personal anecdotes and dumb jokes in my blog. That’s because although I take the material and my intention for it seriously, I do not take myself seriously and I prefer to present what I find in a natural tone rather than textbook dictation, and unfortunately, my natural tone is one of buffoonery. It makes my day job easy, but I know it bunches the panties of many a reader of this site. If you’re one of those people, please don’t waste your time informing me of that, just go read one of the other countless blogs about urban exploring.
If you made it through all that, joke’s on you, you coulda just watched this skit, which sums up exactly how I feel about exploring.
As I said before, I decided to run this site openly, which means if you have any questions, information, corrections or feedback, you can contact me directly. I tried to answer some of the most common questions I’ve been asked over the years on the Q&A page, if you have more, feel free to contact me or leave a comment. If you’d like to help me out in any way, you can buy stuff from me, for me, or you donate any sum you so fancy. Any and all support is much appreciated.
In the mean time, here are a few images from posts you can expect to see over the next few months: