New domain, new blog, new start! I recently decided to change my domain name, as many of you probably noticed, because I wanted a site that really reflected my ideas about travel. I will continue to change the design and logo over the next few days, and update soon with a post about the direction of my new blog, and the upcoming trip that gave me the idea to change it all! But for now, I’m glad to have finally transferred to my new name… so here we are.
I decided I would start off this new site with an interview I did with the Unknown Cameraman. If you don’t know him yet, check out his YouTube channel. This urban explorer investigates abandoned places in the USA, and documents his whole journey into these fascinating, forgotten, and unexplored locations. I love his passion for exploring and his drive to unearth the history and stories of the places he visits, so I had always wanted to talk to him about what he does. Thankfully, I recently got the chance to, and he was kind enough to give me an interview.
Read the full Unknown Cameraman interview below to find out more about what he does, what he finds, and how you can venture into the unknown and the abandoned yourself if you want! You can also check out his Youtube extras, and follow him on Facebook and Twitter.
How did your interest in abandoned places start? When did you start exploring?
I don’t remember the first place I explored or when my interest in abandoned places began but I was always curious about them and pushing my boundaries as a child.
Nearby where I grew up there was an old abandoned cabin in the woods behind the “No Trespassing” signs that my friends and I would go and check out every once in a while. We’d see the crushed beer cans, trash, and graffiti left behind by the older teenagers, and like detectives at a crime scene try to piece together what went on there at night, and what the place may have looked like before the neglect and damages. We would never stay long for fear of getting in trouble with the park rangers, but always came back again weeks later to explore again.
What do you love about urban exploration and the places you investigate?
For me, it’s not just about trespassing for the thrill of it, or taking photos in stunning environments, but more about uncovering what went wrong and how places end up like this.
Researching the history of a building, actively being inside of a piece of history, is thrilling. Often times the stories behind the abandoned locations include corruption, incompetence, or a traumatic event.
Many of my viewers know that I do not pander to folklore and fabricated ghost stories. In some of the locations we have covered, someone truly was murdered or a family member took their own life in the structure. Imagine the pain and trauma that experience brought to the remaining family. Having people then spread rumors and exaggerated ghost stories is downright offensive in my opinion.
I started to really get into “urban exploration” because of a fascination with decay and ruins, seeing how nature reclaims man-made structures. From a young age, I had taken an interest in photography, but I don’t enjoy taking photographs of typical every day life sort of events, so these rare unusual environments of decay really peaked my interest.
How did you decide to make exploring more than a hobby and start your own channel & videos?
My YouTube channel started after I read about the “Witches Well” in Mount Holly, New Jersey and all the crazy stories behind it. We went there to see for ourselves what the hype was about, getting footage beyond the fence to show friends and family, so we could analyze it and validate or debunk the stories we had heard. This prompted us to want to do this with other locations we knew of.
My interest in sharing a video series grew from realizing all of the misinformation out there about abandoned buildings. Often they acquire a goofy fabricated back-story about a murder leaving the place haunted or some similar nonsense. After researching the accurate information, I had come to find out that many structures offered a rich (and often brutal) history with fascinating back-stories that were more compelling than the fake ones.
Once demolished, the truth and history may fade and become harder to find. People stop thinking about it, they stop talking about it, and it is essentially forgotten. I saw urban exploration and YouTube as a way to give some of these buildings one last documentation to keep the memory and conversation going.
So you were drawn to this kind of exploration through a desire to unearth history and unique stories that would otherwise be forgotten. Tell us a little more about that.
For some of the locations that have been abandoned for so long, going through the decades-old items inside is like finding a time capsule. Old toys, retro television sets, clothing, 8-track tapes, etc. This alone is a key to the preservation element of what I do and why I enjoy it. You never know what you are going to find.
Here’s a great example: I found an old farm house and barn in the middle of the woods with very little information about it. After much research, I learned that this was the property of settlers who came over from Europe. The crops produced there were financially responsible for building that town into what it is today. The family name is even the name of the town.
Unfortunately, it seemed no one from the area was aware of the history or significance of the property, and it was demolished to make room for a Wal-Mart. Aside from a few stock photos and a short blurb in the public records, my video may be the only remaining documentation of this founding family’s property.
About how many places would you say you have explored? Any favorites?
Maybe about 120-150? Psychiatric hospitals tend to be my favorites, though others have been quite fascinating as well.
I love psychiatric hospitals because of the amount of odd items left behind. At one hospital there was a room full of blood slides in wooden boxes that looked like Dexter’s secret stash times a thousand.
There was also electroshock therapy equipment, patient records, videotapes, old thorazine pills still in the dispensary, x-rays, and all kinds of stuff that violate HIPAA laws.
The Isolation Hospital was great to explore because half of it had closed in the 1970s and the owners just left it to rot as operations continued on the other side of the building until 2011. Walking through this location was like a time warp. One hallway was completely rusted, moldy, and peeling. Open a door or walk through a hole in the wall, and suddenly it looks like people had been working there just yesterday
We explored this just 5 months after the hospital closed; many employees left personal belongings behind in the break rooms, and all of the hospital equipment had been left behind. It had a real post-apocalyptic “life after people” kind of feel.
There are plans to renovate the building and turn it into apartments with shops on the lower level, which I believe at this time may have already begun.
Can you imagine living in an apartment room where some child spent their life abused? At this location, not only children with developmental disabilities were housed, but basically any neglected child.
Locals have told stories about growing up in the area and when they were being bad, hearing their parents say “Keep it up, and we’ll take you to that hospital.” High functioning kids like this were too much for the staff to handle, and were loaded up on sedatives, tied down with restraints for many hours of the day, and basically broken down until they were mindless drones. It was very tragic.
What gear do you take with you when you film and explore?
It varies depending on the scale of the location. I try to go minimal when possible, as having a bulky book bag is not a good look when you are trying to be sneaky in an area best known for scrap metal thieves and taggers (graffiti).
I usually bring a powerful LED light, extra batteries, shoes with a thick sole, gloves, a hat (mostly just to keep dust and debris out of my hair), and dress in layers no matter how hot it is. I prefer to have as little skin exposed while exploring.
I also bring a respirator with either p100 or organic vapor filters to put me at ease while sifting through mold, lead paint chippings, dried animal feces, asbestos, etc.
Have you ever had any run-ins with police?
Got caught by police once. Every other time I left before they could arrive, several times passing them just up the road and watching them pull onto the property in my rear view – close calls.
The one time I did get caught, the police realized that there were no posted “No Trespassing” signs and ultimately decided I would beat the case in court, so they let us go. I have never been ticketed, fined, or arrested
What kind of dangers do you have to look out for in these buildings?
A few examples of danger would be climbing an 80-year-old fire escape on the frame because the steps had since been smashed or rusted out. Made it all the way up, but I could have easily fallen and I would have certainly died from the fall.
Also, I remember walking around the fourth floor of a hospital wing on a former insane asylum campus that had been abandoned for over 30 years where the wood was so rotted it felt like walking on wet cardboard. Being able to look down and see debris, twisted metal, rotted wood with rusty nails sticking out of them all the way down on the bottom floor is incredibly unsettling.
I always trust myself to walk slowly and check my footing before moving forward, but the thought that I could die is with me every step. Too often while exploring I look down and say to myself “I am looking at my own death right down there. It’s right there. It could happen in a second.”
I just have to stay focused and avoid it. I sometimes miss out on getting to see everything because I choose to be cautious and will not test my luck with pushing forward.
Is it hard to film your explorations in these conditions?
Definitely. Honestly, I worry more about the dangers that arise from trying to get good long shots. Exploring is one thing, but attempting to shoot a full point-of-view tour of locations is a challenge.
I am constantly stuck between getting the good shot or watching out for my safety. Sometimes I’ll go 10-20 minutes without actually looking at the environment around me, my eyes glued to the tiny LCD display on my camera.
There is a lot from our trips that viewers don’t see, when I turn the camera off and just take time to walk around and take it all in. I try to film everything as it is happening, so that when the camera peeks around the corner for the first time, so am I. I do not go ahead, make sure everything is clear, and then go back and start recording. This way I am truly taking viewers along for the ride with me.
So what has been your most frightening moment so far?
First thing that comes to mind is my experience at the Atlantic Electric Control Facility. It is a huge complex and not easy to get into. After being in the building for about two hours, we suddenly heard a truck driving fairly quickly and pulling right up to the building parked at the closed loading dock gate.
We were standing in the dark basement just feet away from some stranger outside who began violently shaking the loading dock gate trying to open it. Then we heard them repeatedly yanking on a nearby door trying to open it. This really rattled us because it was the closest possible entrance to where we were standing.
We hid in a back room in the pitch-black dark to come up with a plan. We decided to tip toe to the stairwell and go up the steps to the top floor, climbed a ladder and got on the roof. We waited for a bit, then decided to risk moving back through the facility all the way across to the other side where we came in, so we could leave.
It was such a relief to make it out of there without running into anyone. The area has a bit of a drug and violence problem, and scrap metal thieves are quite common, often reported in the town’s newspaper. So chances are they weren’t nice people. I’m thankful that we never found out who it was. I’m pretty sure my heart was beating out of my chest until I made it all the way back to my car.
Hardest place to enter so far? What did you have to do?
Hard to say, there have been a few. But probably again, the Atlantic Electric Control Facility. I’d rather not go into detail about how I entered, but it was sketchy, somewhat against my usual ethics, and took multiple attempts. In the end, it was rewarding to have made it in.
Any plans beyond your amazing YouTube channel in the future?
There is something big in the works at the moment, but I am unable to discuss it at this time until it is official. If everything works out, you will certainly hear about it.
How do you find and research a place you want to explore? Any favorite resources you’d like to point people to?
Scanning through pages of search engine results and newspaper articles about fires, closures, etc. Other than that, it is from simply doing a lot of driving.
I’ve found a lot of great locations just from driving somewhere new and catching a glimpse of some boarded up windows and dilapidation behind some overgrowth. I’ll write down the nearby intersection and come back another day to explore.
What do you think is absolutely essential advice someone should hear before starting urban exploration?
Show respect to the places you visit. Value your safety over your curiosity. Don’t steal, vandalize, or litter. Don’t publicize names or addresses of locations. It is best to keep certain details private. Always be alert and prepared for anything.
What would you tell people to look out for while exploring abandoned places?
Watch your step at all times. Try to make as little noise as possible so you can be as aware of your surroundings as possible. Keep an exit route in mind and keep track of your path so you don’t get turned around and lost inside.
Be polite to the homeless or security if you run into either. If security catches you, just apologize and leave. Don’t wait for the police to show up. Mostly common sense stuff really.
Any last advice or experience to share?
I think I’ve pretty much covered everything, but if any readers would like to ask me any questions, feel free to leave a comment on one of the videos and I will do my best to get back to you as quickly as possible.
Youtube Extras: https://www.youtube.com/user/TheUnknownCamExtras