Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Being an Urban Explorer

This post might just as well be called "A Plea to Those Who May Visit These Places....." Recently I made a return trip (one of many) to one of my favorite sites because my good friend and fellow explorer White Rabbit was in town. It was strange as I came into an open area and heard voices. I peered through a window and saw a group of three young guys. It was obvious that they were there doing the same thing I was, so I thought I'd just mess with them a little. I yelled "HEY!" really loud and watched them turn around uncertainly. I don't think they thought it was as funny as I did, but they were very friendly anyway. I asked one of them how they had found out about this place that I thought was pretty darn forgotten, despite being in the middle of a very urban area. He informed me that he had read about it on a blog called "Irrational Ecstasy." They were pretty surprised when they found out who I was. I mean, I'm almost a rock star, right?

It may be a little presumptuous to think that the only reason that they were at this particular site was because of my writings about it. Maybe they would have discovered it anyway, like Chris and I did. Maybe they would have read about it in the "Lost Caves of St. Louis" book. I don't really know. What I do know is that they were there, and that they were able to say that either directly or indirectly, it was because of me. These three guys, while I have to admit I don't really know them, seemed to get it. They were walking around, cameras in hand, admiring the ruins of a forgotten part of the history of our city. So many people don't get to see the wonderful areas right under their noses, and I am glad maybe a few more will get to see them because of my photos. If I can even inspire a few to get out there and see these things for themselves, that's even better! While these guys may be new to the Urban Exploration community, they understood what it was all about, and I'd go exploring with them any day.

A few days ago, someone close to me was talking to an older lady at a graduation party. She found out that this lady worked for a company that buys and then begins to restore old historic buildings in St. Louis. Wondering if her company owned any of the buildings that I had visited, she asked her if she had ever heard of Urban Exploration. "Oh yes, I've heard of that," she said angrily. "Those are the people that break into old buildings and take things of historical value because they think they have a right to it since it's historical and abandoned." After hearing this, she tried to explain to the lady that this was not at all in the spirit of UE, but who knows if her explanation did anything.

As I wandered around the well known walkways and rooms of the building with White Rabbit, Chris, Hiccup, and Hunter later that day, I was amazed at the amount of damage present.......things that were not damaged a few months ago. One of the first things I noticed was that someone had forced entry by breaking down a door in a very visible area. There had apparently been a recent fire in the main courtyard. People had smashed through brick and tile walls in a way that littered the ground with rubble in piles, making it hard to walk. This was all new. People were visiting this site at a rate that it was unused to. I was aware that the police were keeping a much closer eye on the place, and now I understand why.

It may be jumping to a conclusion to say that the increased traffic to the site was due to my blog, but I do not think that it is unlikely. I had already met one group of guys who told me that exact thing! I probably wouldn't be so sure if I were not able to see how the place had changed in the few months since I had first written about it. It was crumbling before due to the passage of time. And yes, there were areas where people were disrespectful and had smashed things just for fun, but it had gotten exponentially worse.

I would hope that all of you who read this decide to get out there and explore the world around you. Go into every unauthorized area, just to see what is there. Visit every vacant building to view the beauty of forgotten spaces. If you do, however, choose to do these things, you must realize that you are part of an already exsisting community. Many who have come before you have done the same thing and visited the same sites. Often, these sites remain in the untouched states that you may find them because of the sense and discretion of those past explorers. Every site that I have visited and posted on this blog I have entered WITHOUT HARMING OR BREAKING ANYTHING. Sometimes I have went to a site and found no possible way that I could get in without breaking a door or something. It is those times that I have turned around and went somewhere else.

Because by nature, UE is breaking the law, the rest of the public may not understand. Because of this, you must ensure that you do not become a mindless vandal in their eyes. If you do take anything from these sites, not only do you risk getting charged with burglary if you are caught, but you also ruin the experience for future explorers who will not get to see those "cool little things" that you happened to take with you. If you smash down a door or break a window to gain access to a building, you have quickly upped the level of what you're engaging in from tresspassing to breaking and entering. Sure, a cop can probably charge you with whatever he feels like, but like I have already stated: realize that you are part of a community of people who care about and do the things that you do. Do not ruin places for other by entering stupidly and getting the placed secured that much tighter, or simply by vandalizing and ruining the space that so many of us have come to love.

There are many sites that I have yet to post, but I am becoming much more selective of what I am willing to share online. I don't want to see these places ruined for those who actually care about their preservation. If you choose to engage in the exciting and mind expanding hobby that we refer to as Urban Exploration, please realize what that means: "Take nothing but photos, leave nothing but footprints."


Blogger Hans Gerwitz said...

Great post; I'd love to see a short "read me before exploring" link to it made permanent on your (and others') sidebars.

Perhaps there is a need for a semi-private forum where fragile sites can be discussed among those who will respect them?

11:58 AM  
Blogger The Unmemorable One said...

Great post. It's sad that you're being more selective with the details, but I certainly understand the rationale. While I love your posts and especially the photos, as an urban history buff, I hate the thought of the sites being vandalized and/or destroyed.

7:14 AM  
Blogger urbanexploration said...


2:55 PM  

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