Archive for the ‘Discussion and observation’ Category

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.

Act as if.

“There’s an important phrase that we use here and I think it’s time you all learned it. “Act as if”. Do you understand what that means? Act as if you are the fucking president of this firm. Act as if you have a nine inch cock. Act as if.” – Boiler Room (Video from the movie)

Why am I posting this? Because sometimes when doing what we do, you need to act as if. Act like you belong there. Security/cops come around a corner? Walk TO THEM and flag them down (as opposed to heading for the bushes). It shows confidence that you are in the right and don’t have a guilty conscience. Now of course you need to be prepared with a good explanation/cover story, but if you act as if, it goes a long way to establishing credibility for when you explain whats up.


Here’s an instructable on making your own MRE. There’s a bazillion reasons to DIY on these things. Like what? Lesseee… price, tayloring it to what you like to eat, taste, price, avoiding chemicals/preservatives or anything you don’t like or may be allergic to… umm… did I mention price? The entry here isn’t exactly groundbreaking, but it’s worth a read because it can get you thinking about the subject. If you read my entry where I tried out a bunch of different MRE’s, I think that’s all the inspiration one needs. My other issue is that if you look carefully some of the items in the picture would require hot- water. I’d avoid anything that needed hot water personally unless you were going to include a mug and one of those heater thingies that plug into a cigarette lighter.

whats in the other 4 MRE’s? I had to find out

After opening up the grilled chicken MRE, I had to know what was in the other 4. It stands to reason that there wouldn’t be the same food stuffs in every single MRE right? So I held one off to hold forever in my box of stuff. (I collected various things thruout the year and create a sort of time capsule every year. driver’s license, car registration, receipts from the grocery store, issues of various magazine, various bills and my son’s school stuff among other things) I opened the other 3.

MRE #1: Spaghetti and meatballs

First of all this one came with Tabasco and it really is a tiny bottle of Tabasco. I’ve seen tiny packets of Tabasco, but never a tiny bottle. It is. SO. Cute. I’m definitely going to save these, put in my box of stuff. Also inside the package of condiments was a tiny packet of taster’s choice coffee and instead of M&M’s there were “assorted charms” (think lifesavers). Also there was toasted crackers and peanut butter, as well as the wheat snack bread and this time, instead of apple jelly, there was cheese spread. The peanut butter crackers were straight off the shelf and aside from being a bit crumbly they were ok. The bread was excellent as before. I think I can honestly say that the thing I liked most out of the MRE was the bread. The cheese spread was your standard processed cheese spread. and it tasted about as good. Ruined an otherwise excellent piece of bread.

The Spaghetti and meatballs were essentially chef boy-ardee. And they tasted on par with the chef as well (meant as a compliment) I can say that overall, this MRE was far better then the grilled chicken. The main meal item was excellent (taking into account what it is we’re talking about) and I enjoyed the snack and side items far more. PLUS IT HAD TABASCO!

NEXT: Pasta Alfredo and veggies

This MRE also came with a mini bottle of tabasco and the sides were all different. There was pineapple in a vacupouch, along with vegetable crackers and peanut butter, as well as a fruit bar and a granola bar. The veggie cracker (hakkkkkK!) was (akkkkk…. water!) just a tad (water! please!) dry. The peanut butter was excellent though and I wish I hadn’t spread so much on the cracker as I could’ve used it on some good crackers later tonight. I’m not a huge pineapple fan so i asked my wife to test them. The pineapple looked nasty. It smelled worse. My wife refused to take one for the team, so I ate one piece. How did it taste? Ummm… surprisingly not like a rank p[ile of shit which is what it looked and smelled like. Let’s just say I’m till here, but I’m staying near the bathroom. As for the alfredo pasta…. the less said the better. Seriously.

Also I did not eat the fruit bar or the granola bar. Didn’t see a point. i know quaker valley bars are good. Crunchy, brittle, dry, but good. and fruit bars? Meh.

LAST UP: Ravioli

This MRE again came w/a little bottle of tabasco. (I LOVE THESE THINGS!) It came w/crackers but these were not the same as the vegetable crackers from the last one. This was closer to a saltine and was quite tasty. Dry but not in a bad way. I could easily have put this w/pepperoni and cheese and enjoyed it. it came w/cheese spread which I’ve already discussed. Bleh. This MRE also came w/the fudge brownie which was just as dry as the last one and just as nasty. Also included was a toaster pastry. This was surprisingly good although it didn’t have enough fruit filling and so it was more aware of the fact that it was slightly dry. But otherwise it was quite edible and I’d gladly eat another. As for the Ravioli… it was a step below chef boyardee for me. Edible, but not something I’d want to eat unless I had to. the meat sauce was bland and gloppy.

After sampling all four three of the four MRE’s, here’s my assessment: for compactness and price, they’ll get you thru the day if you have nothing else to eat. Anything else you buy will either be very simplistic (i.e. beef jerky, trail mix) or require either water or heat or both. You simply can’t beat the convenience that an MRE provides. I imagine that the MRE”s would’ve tasted better had I consumed them in something less then a 5 year span. That said, however, If I were to restock my car (which I am likely to do) I’ll probably check out the camping store and go with somethign from there. Pick and match allows me to get what I want and not be obligated to whatever the manufacturer thought should go into this particular MRE. I might pay more or I might pay less. As long as I have a source of fire I can always throw water bottles and cup o soups in the trunk if that’s what i wanted to do. I’d probably enjoy them more then these MRE’s.

Pictures of all the contents can be found here on Flickr

What’s in an MRE and how does it taste?

I used to go urban exploring. A lot. Ever since I bought a house… not so much. Back when I did go out a lot I worried about possibly getting stuck in the middle of nowhere. I’ve actually been stuck in the sands of the Pine Barrens and if it weren’t for a very helpful Wrangler owner, I would’ve been stuck for a while as I was far from the main road at the time. Combine my outdoor exploits with my fear of a zombie apacolypse and it would make sense to be prepared to survive on your own for at least a few days. I stocked up my car with food, water, first aid supplies, emergency blankets and the like. This was 5 years ago.

I remembered I still had this food in my trunk. I started thinking about expiration dates. Most of the food fit into one of two catagories. Military MRE’s and food stuffs that you mix with water. That and dried fruit like raisins. I figured that the food was maybe 5 years old but there were no expiration dates listed on the MRE’s. Were they still safe to eat? I’ve heard MRE’s aren’t terribly good to start with, but after 5 years? In a car that’s gone thru hundred degree summers and 10 degree winters?

I decided to open one up. I would start with the grilled chicken since it sounded the most appetizing of all the ones I’d bought. (the others were meatloaf, beef ravioli, vegetarian and spaghetti and meat sauce) I had bought these from a military store near me. Apparently these are honest to goodness MRE that would be served to our troops as it says “manufactured for US Government, Resale is unlawful”.


When i opened up the sealed pouch the entire inside seemed… dusty. Turns out there was a package of M&M’s, just like you would buy in the store and it had cracked open, spilling M&M’s everywhere. in the 5 years since purchase they had been ground to pieces and there was chocolate dust everywhere. I had to clean the powder off everything before I continued.

Here is what’s in the MRE:

one cardboard box containing grilled chicken in a vacupouch
one cardboard box containing minestrone soup in in a vacupouch
2 packets of apple jelly
wheat snack bread in a vacupouch
one brownie in a vacupouch
the heater pack
cocoa beverage powder
one spoon
a packet of supplies including
moist towlette
iodized salt
breath mints
spiced cider apple flavor drink
instant iced tea power drink
salt free seasoning blend

Now, first off, I heard every MRE comes with a tiny packet of tabasco to help with the taste. WHERES MY TABASCO? As it happens, it would’ve helped greatly. I read the directions on the heater pack and was confused. The way it reads it heats one item. But there are two things that need to be heated, the chicken and the soup. i tried to stick both in the heater pack but then it wouldn’t close. I removed the soup, poured in water and waited 15 minutes after placing it up against *some thing*, in this case, a water bottle.

While I waited for my chicken to heat, I examined the rest of the items.

Next up: the fudge brownie. It had dried out, and was one step shy of being crumbly. I took a bite. It was barely edible. I threw the rest away.

Next up: the wheat bread snack and apple jelly. First of all the apple jelly was practically pure corn syrup. I spread some on the bread. The bread was in excellent shape. It looked like hard tack, the stuff they gave WWI soldiers, except that stuff is hard as a rock. This wasn’t exactly moist, but it was quite tasty actually. It was markedly better when I added butter, which is technically cheating, but IDGAF. I ate it all.

Next up: powdered iced tea drink. I had a half empty water bottle so I poured the powder in there and shook it up. It tasted better then snapple in a can. I drank it all. I normally am not a fan of powdered drinks because they usually have an aftertaste. As powdered beverages go, it was pretty good.

Next up: the chicken. The way the heater pack works is you stick the vacupouch in the heater bag and add about an inch of water. You fold the top of the bag over and wait about a minute till the packet starts warming. You then stick it in the cardboard box for 15 minutes. I was unsure about the process, but it worked. I removed the vacupouch and debated how I was supposed to heat the minsetrone soup. I decided jsut to add more water and do the process again as instructed.

I tore off the top of the chicken pouch. Since there’s no knife or fork, jsut a spoon, I broke off a piece of the chicken. I know they sell chicken in a vacupouch in the grocery stores and this was pretty similar. It smelled more like tuna then chicken, and texture wise it reminded me of tuna as well. if you’ve ever had chunk tuna that was large pieces and didn’t eant to flake apart, this was the same deal. The chicken was rather bland, but for a 5 y.o. MRE it was… acceptable.

My cat was intrigued though.

Last up: the minsetrone soup. The process for heating it didn’t really work. I emptied the soup into a bowl and microwaved it. Let me first say I’m not a fan of minestrone soup. I took a bite. Let me say again, WHERE’S MY *)@#)@! TABASCO! I could’ve eaten the rest of it I suppose. If I was stuck in the wilderness and had nothing else to eat. Maybe. or if my alternative was go cannibal on the body of my friend who died yesterday. Needless to say, neither was the case here, so it went in the garbage.

Overall opinion:

For a 5 y.o. MRE, the contents were edible. I didn’t get the runs or get violently ill. It’s purpose in my life would be emergency rations if i was stranded somewhere. It would fulfill that role but barely. I would say that if I had any other options, I would go with them first though. You can see all the photos here Also, after I went thru this process I examined some other food items that had been stored in ym trunk. They expired in 2005 and 2006. That means these MRE’s are probably 7 years old.

I decided to try the other MRE’s and I posted what it was like here

Documenting your explorations just got harder. and easier too.

When i say harder, I am refering to the decision of what type of device to use. If you want to document your urban exploration, you have numerous options, and some damn fine pieces of equipment are all vying for your dollars.

If you just want to photograph your explorations, most cell phones have camera built in, and some even take video. Some of them are actually good. I’ve always said in the past that i didn’t give a shit about having a camera in my phone, I just wanted a good quality phone. Now that I have one, I understand the appeal. It’s not something I’d use for everyday picture taking, but it’s quite handy to hae it when I am out and need to snap a quick photo of something that i otherwise couldn’t because I don’t have my regular camera.

For documenting my exploration I had a canon digital rebel but it was getting funky on me. I decided to get a new camera because I wanted a greater zoom and for the money I would spend on a new lens I could buy a whole new camera. I eventually went with a Canon Powershot SX10IS and I am quite glad I did.

I chose this particular camera for the following reasons:

First and foremost, it has a 20x zoom, (35mm equivilent to 28-560) This is HUGE, and it has image stabilization which is important when you’re zoomed in that much and don’t have it on a tripod. Among the other reasons I bought it, in no particular order are such things as 2.5 inch color display that can swivel to almost any direction, more settings then you can shake a stick at, simple, intuitive menus, and the best bonus: it films movies too. This means I have a camera and a decent camcorder all in one. That means one less thing to stash in my pack, one less thing to break or lose. The video quality is decent, though not spectacular. perfect for youtube.

A lot of the places I go there is little light, which renders most camcorders useless. For those situations I bring my Sony DCR-HC28which has nightvision and a 20x zoom. I used this when going on the Hpwe Caverns tour, and to say that there’s low light in on the tour is an understatement. Sure it makes everyone look like they do on Survivor when the film after a tribal council vote, but who cares. It beats the pure black that you get from most camcorders.

The camera retails for $400 and the camcorder, if you can find it (it’s discontinued) for around $200. There are several new cameras and camcorders coming out that are worthy of a look-see. Do I *need* these devices? It depends on how you define need. I’m sure want certainly fits here. I’ve got some quite good pieces of equipment here, but each of these devices provides certain benefits.

When you go out tromping around in the woods, sewers and old factories, there are numerous considerations. Price is worthy of attention because it’s quite possible to damage or destroy your equipment in a fall. You don’t want to lose a $1500 piece of equipment because you slipped in a sewer tunnel. On the hand you need to consider quality because you want to have something decent to look at when you get home. Also of importance is size, weight, bulkiness and general convenience to carry. Depending on the circumstances you may want to have as little on you as possible, or you may be wearing a fanny pack or a backpack. Each one affords you the ability to hold more gear, so this can often determine what kind (and how much) gear you carry.

Here’s a few new items for you to ponder.

The Contour HD is supposedly the worlds first wearable HD camcorder. It connects to a ski mask or helmet and let’s you film in handsfree HD glory. It shoots in HD video (1280×720) at 30fps, or SD at 60fps. It stores on a MicroSD cards (up to 16GB), for 8-16 hours of footage. All for $300.

Another extremely inexpensive camcorder that also shoots in HD is the DXG-125V which will retail for under $100 when it hits the streets in a few months. It shoots in 720p and is waterproof, but it has no image stabilization and only a 2x zoom, but for christ’s sake it’s under $100!

Gizmondo reviews 6 cheap camcorders here. I honestly can’t believe that any of them are worth even considering if either of the 2 camcorders above record decently. But you never know.

So there you have it. My thoughts on cameras and camcorders. As always, feedback is appreciated and in this case, expected. What do you use? What would you use if you were buying a new camera or camcorder?

what’s popular

I have found a huge increase in visitors to my site since I changed to a blog based format, and an increase in visitor interaction. I am very pleased to see this site growing, and I can’t wait to add new material. I decided to share with you what is popular here and what people are googling to get here. I think some of the results will surprise you.

Among the most popular pages on this blog are the following:

The Ramapo Mountain People
The railroad tunnel beneath Fairview Cemetery
The abandoned patient houses of Ancora Psych
Downed Jet in West Milford
Curtis Wright Aircraft Facility
Edgewater graveyard
The Boat House of Hawthorne
Manunka Chunk railroad tunnel
the bull demon of Lumberton

and just about any page dealing with the NJ Palisades/Manuel Rionda’s tower.

the search terms people have used is in some ways surprising, some ways not. The most commonly searched for places are jungle habitat, the ramapo mountain people, different railroad tunnels, the jet in the woods, and different psychiatric facilities. None of this is surprising, but I was surprised to find so many people searching for the boiardo house. I was also surprised at how few people were searching for Clinton road. Considering it’s probably the most legendary spooky road other then Annie’s road, I expected it to rank much higher.

The least surprising thing of all is that this is the most popular page in my entire blog. Considering the title, I imagine those words get googled a lot. 🙂

yes I am immature


why I like visiting cemeteries

New Jersey was discovered by Henry Hudson around 1609 and Dutch settlers came soon afterward. Most families buried their dead on the farm or perhaps in a small church cemetery. Markers were often crudely carved stones or wooden crosses. As NJ has become more and more developed, the family cemetery became outdated. People now bury their dead either in church cemeteries or large private cemeteries. Some cemeteries can contain as many as 100,000 dead.

Cemeteries are essentially history. Besides functioning as a place for the families to come and be with their loved ones, you can see patterns amongst the stones. Perhaps it’s the same name over and over and over, or a large number of markers in the same season representing a bitter hard winter. Sometimes cemeteries will have a Jewish section, or a German section, reflecting waves of new immigrants. Sometimes you’ll even find a slave section as well, reflective of that ugly period of American history where such things were legal. Other times you’ll find a mass grave of some disaster or accident. History in the making.

The large cemeteries of today can also provide quite a bit of eye candy. There are beautiful headstones with pictures of the deceased, images of serenity, or pictures of something the deceased enjoyed doing, such as sailing. Then you have large mausoleums where the deceased are interred above ground, avoiding the normal process of decay that consumes from below ground. Then there are the incredibly beautiful (and sometimes very large) images of Jesus, angels, weeping wives & mothers, children, cherubs, crosses, and more. The money spent on monuments like this is unimaginable. I also like when you find a headstone from the 1700’s and it looks smooth and perfect as if it was put there last week. Makes me wonder why other headstones become so decrepit and decayed so quickly….Speaking of decay, it doesn’t matter if a person is rich or poor, young or old, all share the same final destination. As a character on “Six Feet Under” said: “The whole world is a graveyard”.

I enjoy wandering thru cemeteries, appreciating all of these things, and I hope that you the viewer understand why I do this. Just because I enjoy wandering thru cemeteries doesn’t make me morbid, nor am I a goth fan. I don’t dress in black and listen to punk rock, nor do I conduct ceremonies at midnight. I’m just an average guy. I hope you’ll appreciate this section and look on it with respect. Nothing here is meant to make fun of or denigrate any one here. One person I know said,”About a hundred years ago, families would go to cemeteries together with a picnic lunch, the adults would take care of the graves while the kids would wander around. Cemeteries were a place to be respectful, but they weren’t seen as macabre or spooky the way they seem to be by some people today.”. Well stated.

I especially love old cemeteries. The markers are different from the ones they make now. I also enjoy speculating about the people who were buried there. I sometimes find nameless markers and feel sorry for the deceased because they have no family, or sometimes find incredible monuments and think “Damn. This was Somebody.” On the other hand, a large expensive ornate headstone or mausoleum doesn’t mean they were somebody, though often this is the case…


Five children born. Five children died before they were a year old.

Commonplace for the time period, a reminder of how fragile life was 100 years ago…

Do we do harm by discussing places on blogs/forums/websites?

Urban exploring has been around a long time, but it was always a hidden, secretive thing. People didn’t have digital cameras to document everything with, nor did they have websites to share their experiences in. They didn’t have magazines to write to, or to show them new places. It was localized. Your experiences were shared only amongst your local friends, and you explored local places.

That’s all changed thanks to digital technology and internet. With the popularity of magazines like Weird NJ, urban exploration has become more fashionable and cool. There’s a downside. That information can be read by anyone, anywhere, and you can’t control what they do with it. Were there kids cruising midgetville before the Weird NJ article? Of course, that’s why they wrote about it to begin with. People told them what they had seen or experienced. But once that article hit, people started coming to midgetville from as far away as Pennsylvania hoping to see midgets. Also consider the Dutch church, which was torched mere weeks after being published in Weird NJ.

Criminals destroy and vandalize. They spray graffitti. They attract attention and draw tighter security. Not to mention that they give all UE’ers a bad name. Locals don’t know the difference between the good UE who take only pictures and who wouldn’t vandalize a thing and the not a very nice persons who who go there just to be destructive. I created my original website shortly after I got hooked on WNJ & UE. I wanted to share what i had seen with those who hadn’t, and hopefully get intel on good places from people out there with similar interests. I’ve mad a lot of friends because of my website and forums, and I’m sure otger website owners have too. All well and good, but what about the sharing of info? Does it really hurt the places we love to explore?

That’s a tough question. I think it is true that the more exposure places get, the harder it is to explore. I know of a not-so-abandoned-nursing home that was profiled near my dads house. Theres really only 2 places to park, and whenever the locals see a car parked there that doesn’t belong, they call the cops, assuming that its UE’ers. Greystone is much tighter with security. So is Ancora.

I will continue to publish my adventures and explorations with photos. I will not be as casual with posting locations or directions. I had removed some pages from my site when people started getting in trouble after pics were found on their websites. I will be putting them back on in the redesign, but with less info on where they are or how to get there. I put disclaimers on the site and in the forums telling people that I provide this information for their enjoyment, but that bad behavior will make it worse for all of us. Someone said that good UE’ers “take only pictures, and leave only footprints”. Cliched, but true. I can only hope that people act appropriately. If they don’t I may have to scale back some stuff. I hope it doesn’t come to that.

What do you think?