The End Of The Line

Railway

It was only mid morning but the summer heat had already consumed the day. My skin glistened with sweat and the hair that had escaped my ponytail stuck to my shoulders as I slowly balanced my way along the tracks. I was thankful for the short reprieve from the scorching sun as I passed under a railroad bridge and I slowed my pace almost to a halt to lengthen my stay beneath its cover. The cement structure created a short tunnel and my eyes were drawn to the brightly colored graffiti crawling up the walls, coming together at the top of the twenty foot dome. As I wondered just how the artists accomplished this feat I came out the other side and as my view opened up once again I caught a glimpse of something in the distance. I squinted to see better and saw the shimmering metal of the train dancing like a mirage in the desert.  A smile crossed my lips and I kept an eye on the cars as I came off the railing and picked up my pace. The gravel crunched below my feet, kicking up as I ran, richocheting off the rails with a tinking sound as I closed the distance between me and the train. I had been told there were some cars left on the tracks, but I had no idea what was waiting for me and I stood in awe as I came to a stop and gazed upon my find.

Together Forever

Standing before me were two trains stretching as far as the eye could see, looking sad but not lonely while in the company of the other. I gave my best effort in an attempt to see where the cars ended but only investigating would satisfy my curiosity so I slipped into the shade they provided and began my quest to find the answer. Though these titans had been decommissioned I could still feel the power emanating from their impressive undercarriages as I moved passed them, the faint smell of axel grease hanging in the air as I looked upon the rusted metal and faded logos. Walking in and out of the heat I wondered where these cars had been before this fateful stop and what they had been carrying so I came to stop at the back end of one of the cars and, by instinct, I looked over my shoulder before reaching up to take hold of the corroded ladder in front of me. Hoisting myself up I brought my foot to the bottom rung and climbed up the side of the train, out of the shadows and into the sun again.

Westbound

As expected, when I swung my leg over the top and peered in, the car was empty. The only thing left behind was the coal residue that was now all over my hands and I wiped it on my jeans as I looked around from my bird’s eye view. Looking back I could only faintly see the entrance where I had come in and the tracks ahead showed that I had about the same distance to cover before reaching the end. As I sat on top of the car I could feel the sizzling heat of the metal through my jeans and squirmed from its sting. Way too hot to stay where I was, I swung my leg back over the side and descended the ladder, dropping the last few feet to the ground. Turning to the path ahead of me I wiped at my sticky skin and debated whether I should go the rest of the way or just head back since all the cars looked the same. Reentering the airconditioning sounded amazing right then but I knew better; there was no leaving without satisfying my curiosity as to just what lay at the end so I took a drink from the water in my bag and started walking.

All Aboard

It was another 150 yards before I finally emerged back onto the empty tracks and I could see imediately that my decision to continue on had been a good one. Up ahead roughly fifty yards, the track split off to the right and I could see another train. How long was this one? I couldn’t quite tell, but I could see that these cars had something in them so despite the heat I fell into a light jog. Getting a better view as I approached, I could see that the train disappeared around a bend but my attention went upwards at the sight of its contents. Curiosity brought my hands to the metal and once again I scaled my way to the top, stopping mid-climb in awe as my eyes came over the ridge. A slight breeze stirred among the trees, bringing forth the smell of freshly cut wood as it swept past, and I blinked my eyes against the saw dust being kicked up as it went. Piled haphazardly before me were car after car full of brand new railroad ties and I climbed inside and balanced myself on two of them as I took in the sight before me.

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Beautiful pieces of wood almost glowed in the sun and I climbed from car to car, wobbling precariously near the edge as I balanced on the beams watching my shadow mimic me as it followed on the tracks below. I could hear other trains, active trains, off in the distance but I was alone here in the woods, free to feel the rush as I teetered my way to the front of the train. When I could go no further I found my footing, looking back at the cars behind me and to the amazing view before me. The engine was gone. Detached, it had left its load here to wait for its return and I wondered how so much material could just be abandoned, vulnerable to the elements that would prove distructive over the passage of time. As I stood contemplating their fate another breeze came through the trees, a humid wind that only accentuated the heat of the day, leaving my skin ignited in the summer heat. Though I didn’t want to leave my perch, the sun had become too intense to stay and I knew it was time to head back. Tired from my workout I chose not to head back over the pilings and instead descended the train from where I was. Back on solid ground, I took refuge in its shade and kept my hand on the cool metal until I made it back to the main tracks. Though I was not quite ready to go home, I was satisfied with my discovery and gave one last look over my shoulder before setting off towards home.

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Learning Curve

I have been feeling a hinderance with the stories I’m trying to write lately. Not because I don’t know what to say, but because of my photographs. There are many locations I would love to write about but I find myself skipping over them because it’s extremely hard to find decent shots to share when going back a few years. This is not because I’m being a perfectionist but because, sshhhh….I used to take really bad pictures. I cringe when I scan through my old albums, deciding there is no way I can write a story if these horrible pictures are what I have to choose from. But the writer in me always wins out and I returned to the stories time and time again, forcing myself to look hard at what I have and in doing so I slowly  began to realize that I wasn’t facing failed attempts at all. If I take a photo from today and place it next to one when I first started out I can’t help but see success in the knowledge I have gained and the skills that I have fine tuned. I do not claim to be perfect or even good enough to run with the the best photographers but I can say I’m happy with my accomplishments and it’s time I embraced  them. Welcome to my Learning Curve:

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Stage One: Random shots of nothing

Although I have been exploring for over a decade, the decision to take my camera along wasn’t made until just two short years ago after I returned to my favorite place only to discover that the land had been cleared. Although I can still call on my memorires, even those will fade with time and I never wanted this to happen again. So the next time I went out I brought my Point and Shoot along and as I snapped photos they fullfilled the sole purpose of creating memories, a permanent imprint which could never be erased. There was no rhyme or reason to them, no creative thought or artistic gesture….simply documenting.

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Stage Two: Developing an eye

I was satisfied to have taken something away from the explore, but it wasn’t until I got home and looked through my photos that I discovered I had captured something more. Within the chaos and destruction I caught a glimpse of something I thought was so pretty and it struck me how one could capture beauty in such places. This thought stayed with me each time I went out and, although it took quite a few attemtps, I developed my eye and was thrilled with the results over time. As my pictures began to take on more of an artistic quality I began to think about photography on a more serious level. There was still so much out of order within my shots and I quickly learned that my abilities could only go as far as my camera’s so I made the decision to upgrade.

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Stage 3: Learning My Settings

To be honest, when I got my Canon I hated it and wouldn’t even touch it for the first week or so. Being faced with a professional grade camera threw me off with all its options and settings. Of course I could have stuck it permanently in the Auto setting but that would defeat the purpose of having the camera. Auto is nice to have for every day picture taking but when using your creativity it can only restrict you. A brief thought to return to my old camera took hold until I thought of what I was producing. I struggled with focus, I couldn’t succeed at capturing images in low light and every sky included in my shots was completed whited out. I was frustrated and discouraged but I am not a quitter so I picked up my new camera and took advantage of the vast array of Photography Friends which surround me. From those closest to me to mere aquaintances, I listened to what each of them had to say and slowly it came together. I must admit that I don’t know nearly as much as I would like to but I am always eager to take the advice and teachings that others have to offer.

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Stage 4: Pushing My Creativity

Now that I am comfortable behind the lens I love to push my creativity. I know what I see in my mind’s eye and determination helps me to attain what I am after. Am I perfect? Not even close. But have I achieved? You bet I have, and because of this fact there’s just no way I can be ashamed of what’s hiding in my albums. It’s time to embrace these images and look on with pride in myself as I see just how far I’ve come in such a short time. So I will write the stories which are begging to be told and accompany them with the products of my undeveloped skill, for everyone has to get their start from somewhere and this is where I come from. Cheers to all the horrible pictures one takes on the way to success.

(Copyright) Olivia Wolfe ~ 2013

Beyond The Corridors

This article appeared in Issue 1 of UEmagazine
© ~ Olivia Wolfe 2012

The Long Walk

Beyond the intrigue of the corridors and empty rooms lie another aspect to your explore. The very buildings and ground you sneak around in hold a story filled with history from an era long since passed and most are accompanied by a darker, more sinister side to the tale with mysterious urban legands which have formed throughout time. Both lie in eternal wait for those inclined to listen.

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Built in 1934, this collective group of 23 buildings were constructed in the Colonial Revival Style, offering beautiful woodwork detailing both the columned porches with their elaborate doors and the sunrooms extending the length of the buildings for a relaxed experience reminiscent of the period during the Revolutionary War. Resting on 216 acres, the now crumbling bricks and dilapidated buildings were introduced as a Tuberculosis Sanatorium and although nearly all remnants of furnishings and equipment have been stricken from the premises, one can easily slip back in time imagining the halls alive with the daily hustle and bustle of the nurses in their starch white uniforms as they made their way through the patients and orderlies who occupied these once active vestibules and work stations.

Nuses' Station

With Tuberculosis being a highly contagious disease which few were fortunate enough to recover from, the men and women who cared for the infected were kept away from society as well, residing in Nurses and Doctors cottages which are scattered throughout the grounds, returning to work every day in one of two monstrous hospitals seperating the children from the adults. Although these buildings sit almost 100 yards apart, they all remained accessible through a spiderweb of underground tunnels invisible to those topside. These tunnels were used for many things including maintanance, storage, fallout shelters and the transfer of patients. It is this last use that has stirred one of many urban legands surrounding this location.

Home Sweet Home

It’s said that the dead were transferred underground so as not to upset the residents with the sight of death passing them in the halls and with this knowledge a trip through the pitch black tunnel system warrants an occassional look back over your shoulder as you try to cast off the chill brought on by a cool breeze and dismissing the echoes from behind becomes impossible as you move just a little quicker to get to the other end where it feels safe to enter the light once again. But if you’ve done your research, your brightly lit safe haven of medical stations and isolation rooms dissolves into another feeling of tension as more to the legand surfaces in your mind. The clouded history on the care of the residents has allowed suspicion to form in just what went on behind closed doors. Rumors can be heard pertaining to the mistreatment of the facility’s patients and even go as far to speculate on the validity of the claims at medical staff performing human experiments on those vulnerable to their hidden agendas.

Echoes

Years later when it sought to make renovations on the aging buildings, the hospital was sited for countless fire hazards and the presence of asbestos which forced the doors closed in 1981. The legand goes on to state that near the end of its days of operation, the hospital was used to house the criminally insane. With no family and nowhere else to go, it is said that the patients were simply released from the grounds when the hospital locked its doors, and that the insane made their way back inside the eerie walls to live out their days in abandoned solitude, hiding in the shadows and wandering the decay. Are these stories true accounts, or are they just…stories? That’s for you to decide. So the next time you’re feeling adventurous and find yourself on the outskirts of any abandonment, remember that there’s more to a place than just its sweeping views and deteriorating passageways. These places are saturted with history, both real and conjured up and the other side to the physical explore is when one takes the time to explore its past.

The Cottage In The Woods

FML Moment

As the jaggers pierced my clothes and scratched my face, I winced from the pain but pushed on, keeping my eyes on the clearing that was just out of my reach. The beautiful patch void of things that attack me. I struggled the last few steps and as I brought my foot out of the jungle, it seemed as if the vegetation came alive in one last effort to pull me into its depths as I twisted and pulled and yanked myself free, spinning out of its clutches with a victorious smile. But as I straightened my clothes and picked some leaves from my hair, something caught my eye and I looked to my left. I wasn’t standing in a clearing at all, but rather a stretch of a beautifully manicured path that wound through the woods and disappeared off in the distance. Seriously?? That’s just awesome. But my irritation was only short lived as my attention turned to the battered building on the opposite side of the path.

Nature Wins

Nestled among the lush green trees stood the withering remains of a cottage and although the sun was shining brightly, dark shadows danced across the brick, causing me to hesitate as I peered up at it. Built in 1886, these cottages were once part of a reform school for boys and served as the living quarters for its students. But this one, standing seperate from the others, had been reserved for the school’s worst offenders and research had revealed a most disturbing fact. I was about to enter the very place in which Albert DeSalvo, Known better as The Boston Strangler, had spent his youth. The thought brought a slight chill despite the horridly hot weather as I looked to the blackened windows but I shrugged it off, gave the path one last irritated look, and set out in search of a way in. The windows and doors on the ground level were boarded up but as I walked the perimeter I came upon a busted window which revealed a slight drop into the basement. I took hold of the rotted window frame, stepped onto the sill, spun around and sank into the lowermost part of the building. Taking one last look at the outside world, I turned around to take in my new surroundings.

Solo

Before me stood a makeshift cubby and in it were what was left of the boys’ shoes, laying dusty and filled with cobwebs scattered among the shelves. As I looked at them the musty smell of the basement crept up on me and I wrinkled my nose in disgust. Deciding it was time to head upstairs I looked for an exit but only found a doorway which disappeared into an endless darkness. I dismissed an eerie feeling as I reached for my flashlight and walked to the doorway, stopping just before my shoes disappeared into the abyss. Peering inside, I spotted a faint light on the opposite end of the room and knew if I wanted to continue on I had to pass through the blackened pit. Stepping into the void, I kept my mind on the light as my flashlight washed over broken dressers with their drawers littering the floor and discarded metal bed frames huddling in the corner. Hearing the scurrying of animals that I’m sure weren’t thrilled with my intrusion, I picked up my pace and quickly made my way to the stairs, climbing my way back into the light.

On File

On the first floor, the rooms looked as though they had exploded with paperwork, quickly suggesting this floor had belonged to those who were in charge of the boys. Among the mess stood a disheveld pile of file boxes extending at least five feet high. Some were opened, most were closed and although my curiosity wanted to read the contents, they were covered in a thick layer of white, dusty mold from years of neglect. As my flashlight’s beam washed over them I couldn’t help but wonder which files belonged to Mr. DeSalvo. Though he was brought to the reform school when he was only 12, his offenses already spanned robbery, assault and battery. As he went on to fullfill a lifetime of crime sprees, I wondered what kind of behavior made it into the repremand sheets within these offices and just how miserable he made his classmates who stayed here with him. My eyes lifted to beyond the files where a once-brilliant and beautiful wooden staircase led to the living quarters and I carefully climbed the discintergrating stairs to the second floor.

Wash Up

The first room I guessed to be where the boys had slept. At either end of the massive room stood two small bathrooms looking tattered but somehow still graceful with their claw foot tubs and artful radiators shining in the light of the day as it streamed through the broken windows. Although the main room had been stricken of all the beds, I could envision them lined up and positioned perfectly for optimal capacity. As I scanned the room my eyes fell on the walls and a closer look revealed the faded paintings of children’s murals just high enough to have been above the boys’ heads. As I stood before them, waiting for the shapes to take on a recognizable form, a shiver went down my spine. I wondered what it must have been like when nightfall crept its way inside the windows, swallowing the light and taking with it the comfort that it held. To spend hours under the darkness of night with the likes of a troubled soul such as DeSalvo. My guess was that the nights spent here weren’t as fun and care free as the fading murals depicted.

Game Time

The next room offered the same vast emptiness, only here there was a door on the opposite end with discolored writing on its wood. The floorboards let out faint snapping sounds and echoed throughout the room as I made my way over to investigate. As I got closer the words became clear and I stopped in front of what had been The Game Room. Standing slightly ajar I could see in, my shadow disappearing into the dakness as I looked around. There were no games here. The only thing left was peeling paint. Suddenly the walls took on a saddened feel to them as my thoughts returned to the boys once again. No parents. No one to care about them. Abandoned for such menial crimes as being truant or strong willed, left to stare longingly out the dirty windows at the lives they once knew. I couldn’t help but wonder if these boys, deemed the worst offenders, were just that or had they been meerely acting out due to the way they were treated. It was a sad thought, one I wanted to escape from so I gladly backed out of the room and slipped through a doorway leading to the top floor.

Today's Lesson

I climbed the tight stairwell, following its sharp turns until it stopped in front of a closed door. As I pulled it open the hydraulics hissed above my head and as the room opened up I found myself in front of a set of perfectly positioned desks, forgotten and frozen in time, as if the boys had just left class. The sun shone down upon them through failing parts of the roof, and after a moment of contemplation I stepped into the first row. I walked slowly, taking in the names of both students and past explorers which were carved into the wood and when I got to the back I couldn’t help but take a seat. I envisioned the boys gathered for their daily lessons, passing notes, whispering when the teacher had her back turned, ultimately wishing they were any place but here. As I reflected on the students I gazed out the window entertaining the thought that, unlike them, I was free to go, to leave this place and return to life.  A priviledge not granted to most and one which ended horribly with DeSalvo as he went on to begin his streak of terror on his unsuspecting victims. Suddenly my seat took on an ominous feel as the idea of him sitting in my chosen desk brought terror to my mind and I quickly stood up to escape the evil. It was time to leave this place and as I made my way back to the warmth of the summer sun, I did so with a quickened pace, anxious to leave his memory behind.

© Olivia Wolfe ~ 2013

The Great Debate

This article appeared in Issue 1 of UEmagazine
© ~ Olivia Wolfe 2012

Ask any fellow Explorer about their preference for the best season to explore and you’ll recieve a wide spectrum of answers, each coming with their own lists of Pros and Cons to venturing out in the Summer vs. Winter.

~The Summer Season~

Farm Land

Pros:

The warm Summer months are, undoubtedly, the most preferrable time to explore and with so many advantages it’s easy to see why. Who can complain about the beauty the outdoors offer when needing to trek through the wooded area standing between you and your location? And it’s this lush green vegetation that works to our advantage, both in the event we need to stay undercover and its ability to add life to exterior shots left desolate and alone. Once inside our beloved subject the possibilities abound as there is no feeling of being rushed to get our shots. The days are longer, allowing the casual strolls down hallways and the stops along the way to investigate, letting us pause to acknowledge the little things. The day is complimented by the the sun’s bright rays that play off of the camera’s lens, completing the trip with exceptional photography.

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Cons:

But perfection is lost on the sudden knowledge that you are not the only one the warm weather has enticed. Summer increases the chance for run-ins with other people and security, and who among us has enjoyed the need to crouch and hide from unexpected visitors? The heat of the day slowly sets in, making you tired and the necessity of water in your backpack makes it feel as though you’re carrying a ton of bricks on your back. Wiping at the hair that has permanently affixed itself to your face with sweat, you curse your sticky bug spray-laden skin for attracting not only mosquitoes who have returned for their next meal but every bit of dust and cobwebs the place has to offer, and you’re thankful for the decision to end the journey. Hot, tired and sweaty you sneak back down to your chosen entrance. The opening which once beckoned you to come in offers a view of the wooded obstacle course you must drudge through. Tangled branches along the dirt floor trip you as you run along, jaggers and thorns tearing at your clothes, determined to pull you back as you make your way to the safety of your car. The explore may be over but time to breathe easy only comes after the need to search yourself for any ticks that may have found their way onto your skin. It’s time to go home.

It’s this side of Summer which makes us anxiously await the changing of the seasons as the temperatures cool off, the days grow shorter and the leaves fall away. Soon we are met with Winter as we venture out again.

~Winter’s Wonderland~

Dam!

Pros:

Winter is an interesting season because the cold climate offers more challenges for the adventurer. With the exception of the brave explorer, the dead of winter keeps most people indoors. This works to our advantage as it lessons the possibilities of run-ins with other people as everyone’s main focus has become to stay warm. We can take advantage of the stories that lie within the fallen snow. With a little attention one can conclude whether your location has been recently visited by any footprints that may exist or the fact that the plows have neglected the area means it is not one of high priority. The exterior shots come into perfect view as the location has broken free of the confines of vegetation, adding to the essence of desolation and abandonment. The chill in the air tends to keep you alert and you’re satisfied at the end of the pursuit by the brilliant way the sun has cast off of the snow, illuminating your photography.

Anyone for a Swim

Cons:

The lush plant life has fallen away taking with it nature’s hiding spots, causing the need to move quickly. Your second challenge lies within the forecast as snowfall means contending with the fact that you can’t escape your footprints, which can not only alert others to the presence of someone in the building, but the tracks can lead them straight to you. Your freedom to move easily around has become restricted by the need for all your layers and the bitter cold causes you to play the game of trying to keep your fingers from freezing beneath warm gloves and shedding them so you can operate your camera. By the time you’ve captured your last shot your ears are burning, your nose feels as though it might actually fall off, your feet almost refuse to move and you’d like nothing more than to hide under a mountain of blankets until you regain sensation in your extremities or face the world for the next week with a notable cold.

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So whether it’s Summer or Winter when you grab your gear and car keys, it seems our love for the chosen season only lasts as long as it does. By the time we are met with the opposing season we have had enough of what the current one has to offer, but we misss it dearly when we’re in the midst of the other. We carry a Love/Hate relationship for both Summer and Winter but we will forever dawn our cameras and face them eagerly as adventure always awaits.

Hidden Lessons

Welcome Center

Deteriorating structures are all around us, their ragged exteriors and the filthy ground they rest upon have been cast off by society, seen as nothing more than a distasteful blemish, an intruder among the pristine landscapes in which we reside. But as I gaze upon these remnants, my eyes percieve something different amidst the decay. History runs deep within the tired walls, crying out through the falling brick and splintered wood, their stories waiting to be told to those who will listen. It is this knowledge that beckons to me, calling me off my well paved path, and as I crawl through the shattered frame of a window I find myself entering another world. Being inside is like walking through a history book, only these lessons offer things that can’t be found within their pages. Here I’m given an up close and personal look into the past as I wander the halls, captivated by the things which have been left behind.

Lost Possessions

There’s a darkness that exists within the corridors of an asylum as the overgrown vegetation works its way inside. But something else lingers in the shadows. Stories of mistreatment and poor medical care cloud my mind as I pass disheveled wheel chairs and filthy medical equipment. As I reach the Confinement Ward, the cell doors stand slightly ajar as if their occupants have all escaped their tiny prisons and the deserted nurses’ stations confirm that help had long since gone. A door at the end of the hall remains closed and the corroded hinges painfully screech to life as I push it inward. The sun follows me inside, casting its beams on a room full of discarded suitcases, their tattered labels giving names to the personal belongings strewn all over the floor. There is still much pain and sadness which has been buried over time, and it’s here that I am faced with a glimpse of those who were consumed by it.

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The factories and textile mills where our Grandfathers and Great-Grandfathers worked hard every day now lie in ruin. The massive machinery tower together as collective giants in a dormant state and dusty work stations still covered with tools of the trade wait eternally for the next shift change. Books reveal through words that these men worked hard but just how hard only becomes real when I reach out and feel the cold rusted metal of the tools on my fingertips or try to shake the heavy soot from my clothes. Standing within the filth that doesn’t completely belong to the passage of time, I’m given a clear picture of callused hands and the dirt-covered faces that labored tirelessly during a time when wages did poorly to compensate their efforts.

CheckIn

In a resort that has been closed for over a decade, intrigue draws me behind the decaying Administration Desk. Room keys still wait in their assigned cubbies for the next guests that will never be arriving. Wasting away in their stations, rotary phones and outdated computer systems sit in silence as they are slowly buried beneath the falling plaster. Debris-covered journals offer hand written entries disclosing the menial tasks of the day. As I get lost within the pages I am able to envision the whirlwind of activity that once took place around me and for a moment, ever so briefly, the destruction is lifted and the brilliance returns to the common area as it appears as it once had in another life.

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Quickly shunned and forgotten, we turn our eyes from these places to concentrate on the ever growing world around us and it becomes easy to dismiss the history that lies beyond their fractured doors. Some stories are happy, some sad and some are even a bit disturbing but it’s within these very places where I am content to wander. I will always take the chance to venture off the beaten path for as I stand in the shadows of these decaying foundations, I look upon their ominous exteriors eager to learn from the knowledge that they hold. And because lessons don’t always come from ink on paper, I disappear inside reminded that the most important lesson to be learned is that something is lost when you decide to judge a book by its cover.