What one explorer found in the basement

This post written by an urban explorer named Cabel is amazing. Not just for what he found but for his amazing writeup. What he found is what I always hope to find when I go checking out a place. How he felt is how I feel when I find something like this. It’s one reason why part of me prefers to explore alone or with as few people as possible. I like to linger. I like to go thru what I’ve found. Even something as boring and dry as chemical orders from 1962 can be fascinating to me.

I remember going exploring on North Brother Island several winters ago. I paddled there in a canoe with a guy I’d never met before. Maybe I met him once. Sorry, it’s been a while and I can’t remember his name. The night before it had snowed an icy rain/slush and the roads were treacherous. The temperature was below freezing and here we were, about to paddle on the Bronx River in a section known as hell’s gate, so named by the Dutch because of the horrible currents. Even with a life jacket, if we went into the water, hypothermia would set in quickly.

On the island was a hospital and sanitarium. it was made famous because it was where Mary Mallon was a nurse (Typhoid Mary to you). The place was steeped in history. Now it was a nature preserve, and being winter it was cold, quiet and you felt alone in the world. You couldn’t hear the traffic from the nearby streets because there weren’t any streets nearby. It was 1/3 of a mile from shore and only a half mile or so from Riker’s Island. That day it had that eerie post snow storm silence, as if the the weather had sucked all the ambient noise away.

In one building we found the kitchen and in it I found recipes and purchases orders from the 1950’s.

Something as simple and mundane as this was to me, a treasure. At the time I believe it was still a hospital. So in this gigantic kitchen meals were made for hundreds and hundreds of infirm patients. The purchase orders showed not only the kind of food that was ordered but the prices as well which of course seem laughable to us today. Many of the recipes were on index cards and in excellent condition when you consider their age and the passing of time.

I also found a phone book from the early 50’s. I’ve seen in movies where someone turns a page in an old book and the page crumbles and disintegrates and I always thought it was a cheap looking SFX. Turns out pages can actually crumble as if they were glass shattered by a hammer. The book was so incredibly fragile it took great care to be able to look at it without destroying it. Every phone number was along the lines of KL5-6682. I doubt anyone under the age of 30 wouldn’t even understand how that could be a phone number, unless they watched the Honeymooners or I Love Lucy. Looking in the yellow pages at the business listings gave an insight into the economy of the time, and I saw many business types that don’t even exist any more and this was just 50 years ago.

Who knew a phone book could be interesting. As we move to an age where people google everything when they want business info and phone books are not even delivered unless asked for, one day this type of find might be impossible. I can imagine in 30-40 years if Grand Central terminal is replaced and perhaps part of it is not destroyed, some urban explorer might find a way into the old sections and have to look up to find out what a “phone booth” was.

Sometimes the greatest finds and the coolest treasures are the simplest of things.

2 responses to this post.

  1. About 15 years ago my Brother was exploring the basement of an old bulding on Manhatten .The building had been a dept.store around Briant park and was about to be anexed into the Cuny grad center.Not as darring a sojurn as brother Island but the tail of the phone books tenuis existance brought back the memory of openiing up the package he had handed me that was rescued from that basement. Raped in brown paper and fine printers string sat the promo book the store had spent a small fortune to put together.It was a time capsule.That was ment to envoke the modern sensibilities of the store and its fleet of electric dilivery trucks along with the 8 floors of merchandise and everything else that went with it .by the way the store had opened in 1912. The pile of promo books that he had found had been there for a very long time.


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