Monday, March 20, 2006

Hospital Dormitory

Recently Chris, Matt, and I began our day downtown looking for interesting sites. After finding nothing that looked doable, we hopped in the car to check out a few other locations that I had in mind, eventually ending up at an old hospital dormitory in North City. While entering this building appeared easy at first, it became increasingly more difficult when we realized that it was actually still attached to an active complex that houses an assisted living community. Entering the dormitory required us to pass right by areas in full view of these active buildings. We just hoped that we were passing by during nap time.

There is very little remaining in this hospital building that hints at its former use. I only assume that it was a dormitory building because there is so little in the way of actual medical equipment or facilities remaining, and because that is what other explorers who have visited the building have been inclined to think. The interior, while crumbling and decayed in many places, still seems to be structurally sound, unlike sites like St. Mary's Infirmary. Also, we found very little evidence of vagrants occupying the building at all. Each of the floors had it's own charm, as the original coloring is visible despite the widespread peeling of the paint. However, it is apparent right away that all of the floors follow the same layout. Chris and Matt quickly became bored, and wandered off away from me. It was then that I began to hear sounds of yelling coming from the outside lawn. I was nervous at first, until I realized that it was just the neighborhood kids playing tag. Whew! One of the few areas that is unique in the building is the attic, which is empty aside from a few small religous pieces. The light shining through the one open window in the attic made it stragely eerie. Chris also happened to find a tunnel in the basement which assumingly runs undergound to one of the active buildings in the complex. On the lowest level, one is offered a glimpse into the adjoining nursing home through the window of a sealed door. There is something very strange about looking into a well maintained active facility on just the other side of a door when you're standing in a hallway crumbling with neglect.

I don't know very much about the history of this building, only that the hospital that used to occupy it moved west to a suburb of St. Louis in the 1970's. When I was telling my dad about the location of the place, he knew exactly what I was talking about because apparently both he and my uncle were born at this hospital. But that was a LONG time ago. I would be very interested to know which of the other buildings at this site were once a part of the hospital, and why this one building was sealed off and forgotten while the rest were maintained.

While Chris and Matt weren't overly impressed with this site, I found it interesting for its historical value and for the beauty of it's decay like I do all the sites I visit. I don't know if I'd go out of my way to visit again considereing how visible someone entering it is, but I am glad that we made the trip and that I was able to document this one forgotten building on a site that has definately not been forgotten.

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

The Miles Mausoleum

This interesting spot I just happened to notice on the way home from my day of exploring at the quarry in Valmeyer, Illinois. For many miles, bluffs had risen to my right side far above the flood planes that I was driving on. Always one to admire my surroundings, I noticed something strange high atop one of the bluffs. I was tired from walking many miles through many tunnels and caverns, but I didn't know when I would be back in this area, and I hate feeling like I missed out on something. I parked my car and set off on my own to find a way up the bluff to this "thing."

As I began my trip, I wasn't sure what exactly I was looking at up there, and I definately didn't know of its history. What I had accidentally stumbled upon is known as the Miles Mausoleum, and is one of the most infamously haunted and eerie spots in southwestern Illinois. Stephen Miles was a veteran of the War of 1812, and used the land given to him in return for his military service to begin running his very own farm. Legend has it that many other soldiers would claim land in the surrounding countryside for their military service as well, but all soon disappeared after strangely signing over their claims to Mr. Miles. In a few short years, he owned and operated several thousand acres of the fertile farmland of the region.

The family mausoleum was built in 1858 by Stephen W. Miles, son of the elder Miles. Despite his grand plans for the upkeep of the tomb, he later went bankrupt and only 11 of the 56 vaults were ever used. Local lore says that it once housed the bodies of Miles himself, along with his two wives, a few mistresses and a number of servants. Unfortunately, they would not be allowed to rest in peace.

In the early 1960s, the mausoleum was apparently rediscovered where it was hidden in the enveloping woods. It was broken into, and later visitor said that caskets and bones with dried flesh still clinging to them could be seen everywhere. It was rumoured that the tomb had been desecrated in search of the valuable jewels that had been buried with its occupants. A few years later, things continued to get worse. A cult group removed the remaining bodies from their vaults onto the grounds outside, and burned them in their attempt to "raise the dead." As you could probably imagine, stories of ghostly encounters at this site have been numerous and continue to the present.

As interesting as that would have been, I had no ghostly enounters during my visit. The site is covered with graffiti and other teenage vandalism, and the floor is littered with empty beer cans and bottles. During my brief visit (on a Sunday afternoon, mind you), I saw at least two different goups of teens with intoxicating beverages in hand examining the site. It is apparent that area teens don't find the idea of getting drunk in an old desecrated tomb unnerving at all. Well, thumbs up to them! Even in the daylight, the mausoleum is eerily beautiful, and from its perch atop Eagle Cliff, one can see miles of the surrounding Illinois countryside.

Much of the information I found about the mausoleum didn't seem to know exactly where it was, only the stories about it. I find that very strange, since I don't understand how one driving down the adjacent road with his or her eyes open could miss it. Many accounts said that there are no longer roads that lead to the cemetary, but I found out later (after hiking up the side of the cliff, which was quite difficult in my out of shape state) that the local roads do still take you to the cemetary entrace. If I decide to return, I'll probably opt to use those roads as opposed to sucking wind for a half mile up the side of a cliff.

I would be very interested to know how much of the legends of the Miles Mausoleum are actually true, and how many have been passed down over the years just because the idea of an empty tomb is kind of creepy. I would enjoy visiting this site again, but probably at night so that I can scare the pants out of the poor soul that I drag along with me.

Friday, March 10, 2006

City of Rock (AKA "Where the hell are we?")

Chris Happened to find this site while following a train in Illinois. Why was he following a train? Because Chris likes trains, okay?! This has, however, led me to create the following theory: Trains know where the best places to explore are! A few weekends ago, Chris took me and a couple other adventurers to visit what he called "the huge quarry in Illinois." As we began exploring, I realized that the word huge was not sufficient to describe the vast underground areas of this quarry.

As you approach the quarry in Valmeyer by road, you immediately begin to notice the many large openings in the nearby bluffs. As you begin to see how far this system of openings streches, you get your first hint at how large the areas inside must be. The site has been in use since the early 1900s, when the Missouri Pacific Railroad used the site as an open-faced quarry to obtain rocks for use as railroad ballast. For most of its exsistence, it was operated by the Columbia Stone Company, who is responsible for the vast labrinyth of room-and-pilliar tunnels. In 1948, the Knaust Mushroom company leased 110 acres of the man-made caverns. The temperature and humidity of these underground areas turned out to be perfect for mushroom growth, and at its peak 2 million pounds of mushroom were harvested at this site in just one growing period. Today, a portion of this complex is being used once again, this time for a cold storage facility. Of the 6 million square feet of underground area, 100 thousand has been turned into what is now known as "Rock City." Though extensive, Rock City encompasses only a small part of the vast man-made cave system.

Our small group of adventurers approached the site from the side that is still abandoned, where I began by checking out one of the small crumbling buildings that sit near the base of the hill. Though small, this building was quite interesting. It still contained many of the old switches and guages. While I never know exactly what these devices once controlled, they always cause me to make my pattented "Oooooh, switches and guages!" face. Something I had never seen before were the makeshift shelters someone had made using old clothes, shoes, and wire frames. At least, I assumed they were shelters or windbreaks of some kind. Whatever they were, they were odd.

There are many shafts and tunnels leading from the base of the hill and leading deep into it, although most are either dead ends or have now collapsed. There is still one, however, that provides easy access into the upper inside areas of the quarry that would otherwise require some serious hill climbing to reach. I could care less about a tough climb, I just thought it was so cool to be entering the quarry through a tunnel. I'm sure my yelps of excitement were audible to all. We passed through this old tunnel along a path still occupied by some sort of conveyeur. From there, it was only a matter of ascending a few staircases and ladders until we reached the main levels of the caverns.

The first areas of the quarry are fairly well lit and open, with light still shining through the large openings on the bluff face. There are many signs that these areas are still frequented, the coolest of which were some ATV tracks that seemed as if they were taken off some "sweet jumps." In these first areas, we found most of the cool items that hinted at the history of the quarry. In many sites we have explored we have found government issued rations, because many of these locations were at one time designated Civil Defense Shelters. This quarry was at one time the largest shelter in Illinois. It is quite evidents, as this was by far the largest stash of these supplies we had ever found. You can also still find the cylindrical tubes that used to contain demolition charges, and many boxes of old core samples.

As we began to move further into the hill and farther away from the light of the sun, the caverns became seemingly much larger and more ominous. Many of the lower chambers are flooded, and the group of us spent near an hour attempting to find a dry route through a specific part of the quarry, but were unsucessful. In the pitch blackness of some of these deep parts of the quarry, strange artifacts can still be seen, such as large deflated tubes still attached to the roof of the cave that at one time must have been a part of some air filtration system. We also found a number of spotlights which at one time must have lit the path for vehicles traveling on the many underground roads. After wandering for a few hours, we began to notice that we were no longer in the forgotten parts of the caverns. I have to admit, it is strange to wander onto a paved road in the middle of a cavern complete with road markings, street lights, and street signs. We had wandered into the Rock City complex, where the cold storage facilites are operated today. These areas offered a much different version of the quarry, complete with loading docks and even underground office buildings! How cool is that?! We were able to wander into one of the office areas because someone was kind enough to leave the door open for us. Whoever designed these areas deserves major props, because the way the rooms used the cave itself as some of the walls and ceilings was quite amazing. In one of the rooms, we even found a large map of the entire complex, which showed us that there was still another entire hill's worth of quarry that we had yet to see. This second hill ended up being much emptier and full of rubble that the areas we had already explored, so we didn't spend that much time there. We left the complex that day covered in dust and sand, using the main road that trucks must use every day of the week when the complex is active. This massive quarry may not be as full of neat little nuances that I enjoy at other sites, but it makes up for that by its size alone. After spending around five hours exploring, I still felt like we had seen only the tip of the iceberg. I'm sure I'll return, some day when I have a lot of extra time.

Lung Cancer
Lung Cancer