“Isn’t it scary?”
Sometimes people ask me if I’ve ever seen a ghost, or felt a “haunting presence” follow me around as I wander alone through an abandoned building. Other people want to know about the cops, “How do you get into these places? Isn’t that illegal?” As if something’s legality has ever stopped an honest person from doing anything.
I’ve never seen a ghost because they’re not real, and if you’ve ever found yourself in an abandoned building and sworn to yourself that you just heard footsteps but no one’s there… it was probably one of us. When it comes to the cops, we do what we can to stay off their radar. When that fails, it’s time for a game of hide-and-seek. Except their team has German Shepherds and firearms. Which brings me back to the question… What am I afraid of when I go into abandoned buildings? Other people.
It was a unseasonably warm day in December, but still cold by any sane or non-New Englander’s standards, but it was incredibly clear and bright, and we decided to make a trip to Connecticut to take some photographs. Rana had spent the night in town, and early in the morning hours, we piled into a car with coffee mugs and CLIF bars and set off down 95.
We ditched the car at the end of a utility road, and made our way through the woods, picking our way along a narrow trail over some rocky cliffs. Lily recounted a story about a couple of teenagers who were chased off the property by overzealous security guards. The legend goes that, in the dark, they had chased them right off the edge of these cliffs and the kids had died.
When we eventually made it to the perimeter road, most of the brush had been cleared away from the edges of the trees. With no cover to hide us while we tried to get a bead on security, we just went for it, jogged right up to the building. With a bit of climbing, made our way in through a second story window.
Our first move was to make our way to the top floor take a look at the property and check or security. Other than a menacing black truck with state emblems on the doors, which sat empty as a decoy, we were alone here.
We made our way through the building, took photographs of the patient rooms, the gym, the theatre, we saw the day rooms and took pictures of them. Snapped some flicks of that medieval looking restraint table. It was a good day, really. After a few hours of wandering around, splitting up and regrouping, I sent a text out to Rana and Lily asking if they wanted to meet back up and head out. And as I went to pack my bag, I heard the last thing you ever want to hear. Not police sirens, but power tools. I tossed all my shit into my bag, snatched up my tripod and made my way for the roof.
Rana had heard the saw blade against the pipes too, the sound was so loud it seemed to be coming from right behind you. Just on the other side of whatever wall was in front of you. She was already on her way to meet up with me, and we both made our way onto the roof to get a better view.
Lily was elsewhere, and at first didn’t understand what we were so worried about when Rana and I had both separately texted “scrappers. gtfo.” As he made his way back to us, he didn’t tell me which floor he way on, and when he came around a corner, I almost clubbed him with my tripod.
From the fourth floor window, we could see two scrappers at the base of the building. They looked like they were in rough shape. Rail thin, grimy, wearing ratty clothes and wielding Sawzalls. The best course of action would have been to avoid them, but they were parked right under the window we had used to get in, and either way we had to make our way past them to get off the property and back to our car.
We decided to cross back to the other wing of the building, and now sat four stories above the scrappers, and just three stories above the window we needed to jump out of. As we sat there trying to figure out a plan, Lily decided we weren’t waiting around. He took a brick from the sill and hurled it at the wing across the courtyard it thudded against the building and the two scrappers scattered. Great, we thought, now we can get the fuck out of here. But not so fast. We saw the scrappers standing in the road, cellphone in hand.
What was happening? Before we knew it, a beat up van came flying around the campus and screeched to a stop below us. We watched as a massive dude, in a greasy tank top and a hairnet jump out of the car. One of the scrappers passed him a load of copper, he wrapped the pipes in a blanket. He looked like he was on steroids. He took the first load of pipes and hurled them into the car, then he took a second load of pipes and hurled them into the car, then he took one of the scrappers and hurled him into the car. The other scrapper jumped in behind him and slammed the door. As El Jefe went to get back into the van, he scanned the windows. We ducked. We waited until we heard the tires screech as the van pulled away.
Down a couple flights of stairs and we were at the window. We bailed out and made our way back to the woods, glad to be on our way out. As we crossed the perimeter road and made our way towards the trails, I turned around to maybe get one last shot of the building. As I stood there, I noticed a group of teenagers near the far side of the building, making their way around the road. “Maybe we should tell them to keep an eye out for scrappers?” I thought out loud. Then the kids stopped and looked at us, and we realised they weren’t kids at all. It was a mob of a dozen dudes in track suits and team jackets, with knives and pipes and brass knuckles. And then they started walking towards us. We turned and ran into the woods. They ran after us. What had been a cautious 20 minute walk up a cliff on the way in, had turned into a 5 minute dash on the way out. I thought about the story Lily had told about the kids who had been chased off the cliff at night by the cops. As we got close the edge of the woods, we realised that we were off the trail too, and had to make our way down the cliff. When we made it down to the road, we looked back and saw the gang standing at the top of the hill. They didn’t follow.
On the way out of town, we saw the same beat up looking van parked outside another abandoned building.