I have a particular fascination with abandoned places. Urban decay speaks to a part of me that hunts for stories, both real but forgotten and imaginary. I’m more of a vicarious urban adventurer – I have not crawled around in very many decaying places. Not because I don’t want to, I do, but I’m more terrified of other people I might find than I am of anything else. Least of all, the practice of urban exploration is mostly illegal everywhere, but I’m sort of a coward when it comes to dealing with desperate people who might not mind mugging me of my expensive digital camera. My fear comes from experience, unfortunately, so I must be an urban explorer in the research capacity. I no longer go much further than my local library.
Still, I’m glad that there are people who go out and catalog our history both bravely and beautifully. I comb the internet for blogs dedicated to urban exploration and urban decay, and I spend a lot of time day dreaming about what it must have been like Once Upon A Time and how whole buildings can just vanish the moment we look away.
Here are ten of my favorite abandoned places. Enjoy and if you are an urban explorer, go bravely and beautifully, but please be careful.
Danvers State Asylum is actually number 1 in my heart, but because it is no longer there I had to move it to number 10. This is one of the few places I was able to see with my own eyes, and I’m not even kind of kidding when I say it was one of the most terrifying experiences of my life. The monstrous size of it was almost too overwhelming to remember. I kind of remember the graveyards and I remember staring up at the tower thinking just being near it was making me feel a little nuts.
If there is a real haunted place in this world, I’m convinced that Danvers was it. You cannot have the history that building suffered and not leave imprints upon it.
I’ve picked up scraps of information about the place over the years, mostly from people I met when I lived near Danvers before it was demolished. I know that many of the patients at the turn of the century were not mentally ill and were, in fact, just foreign who couldn’t speak English but the state had no where else to put them. I know that experiments on the sick were common then too – the lobotomy was invented here and it was used heavy during its overcrowding years mid-century. I know it was built to house only about 500 patients, men in one of the bat wings and women in the other with the most ill and violent in the farthest ends. I also know that at its peak it actually held closer to 2000 patients, which was when creative and revolting practices were used to keep control. I know electroshock therapy was common and at one point in its horrifying history patients with schizophrenia were treated by being led outside in the winter, stripped naked, and hosed down with water. To cure them, of course.
Here’s possibly the worst bit of information I was told once upon a time – the patients who died there were given numbers and buried in one of the many graveyards (several of which were mass graves.) They had tombs which marked their numbers, but when the facility shut down, no one took control of the records and the names of patients assigned to each number were lost. Urban explorers, looters, and homeless took over the buildings and records were lost, stolen, or destroyed. I know this for a fact because I once met a guy who worked in a shop in Salem who had been inside the building. He showed me a folder with the official seal on the front and records inside. I didn’t look at them long enough to be sure they were real, but I’m assuming they were. This was ten years ago and I no longer remember his name or even the name of the shop. From what I understand though, this was a common souvenir taken from the sight – a practice I absolutely do not condone. The only thing that should be taken from sites are photographs.
Danvers is featured in the movie Session 9, which does a pretty good job of capturing what it felt like being there. Haunted. Extremely haunted.
North Brother Island, New York City, is the inspiration for a short zombie story I have not yet tried to publish, but might someday. The entire island is abandoned, and forbidden, for many reasons. For most of its life it was used as a hospital to quarantine people with extremely contagious illnesses. Its most famous claim is that Mary Mallon – aka Typhoid Mary – was imprisoned here for the majority of her life. After this it became a rehab center for teenagers addicted to drugs, but corruption eventually shut it down.
I have not been to North Brother Island, but I have sort of squinted at it in the distance, so that kind of counts, right?
Photos owned by North Brother Island blogspot- click for more
Detroit is, unfortunately, filled with beautiful decay. Some of it has been restored in the last couple of years, but much of it hasn’t. I couldn’t pick just one favorite (The cathedral? The theater? The skyscraper? I can’t decide!) so I picked the whole city. Detroit is one of those places I really hope gets revitalized in the next ten years. Pictures are not mine, click on them to take to original source.
Kowloon Walled City, China
Granted, most of my imagination’s idea of the Walled City probably doesn’t jive exactly with how it really was. The Walled City has a lot of urban legend surrounding it, as it was once a densely populated area after World War II and afterward was thought to be a kind of crime city (something like Sin City) with a high occurrance of gambling and prostitution. The buildings were so tall and the streets so narrow it was hard to see the sky and there was nothing growing anywhere within Kowloon except concerete. It was urban over development at its scariest. I imagine trying to live in such a crowded, dark place, controlled by crime, with no room of your own to breathe. I think it would feel like the last city on earth.
After a long and drawn out eviction process, China eventually demolished the city.
Catacombes de Paris
Firstly, the word catacombs is enough to catch my interest, and then you throw in the word ossuary and I’m yours. Which makes me sound way weirder than I really am, but I’m spellbound by the idea that beneath a city are tunnels that connect buildings all over a city, some of which are blocked off, bricked up, or collapsed and forgotten. We have a high school in my city surrounded by forgotten tunnels and it has stolen my day dreams numerous times.
The Paris catacombs are special though. They house the skeletal remains of more than 6 million people and it’s open for anyone to go down and see. The remains are often arranged in beautiful ways – not something you typically consider when it comes bones.
They are open to the public, though I have not gone there myself.
Tomorrow: My top 5 abandoned places. Honestly though, it was hard to put them in any sort of order. I love them all.
UPDATE: I’m horrified by the number of grammar and spelling mistakes in this post. I’ve gone through and cleaned it up, but here’s a warning to all bloggers - writing posts while watching Warehouse 13 will cause you use words that don’t really exist.
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