I think I may have crossed over from rural exploration to urban exploration.
Granted, I still take those opportunities to get out into the woods and mountains. And the place where I went for this outing wasn’t exactly in a thickly settled area. But the principle still applies.
It all started when I stumbled across a video of the ruins of a Six Flags amusement park in New Orleans. The park was flooded after Hurricane Katrina and never reopened, leaving an eerie wasteland of water-damaged buildings and stalled roller coasters. The video panned through several bedraggled attractions in the park to the tune of “East Hastings” by God Speed You Black Emperor, a good theme for desolate wastelands ever since it was used for the vacant London scene in 28 Days Later.
Checking out places like this is an example of a movement called urban exploration, in which adventurers check out derelict city sites. It’s meant to be benign, eschewing activities such as vandalism and theft in favor of checking out what was left behind. But it’s still frowned upon, given that it usually involves trespassing as well as the potential for injury from strolling through unstable or hazardous structures.
I’m always glad to see New London from new angles, as it’s interesting to stumble across sites such as the or an . But in searching for a local urban exploration site, I found that the Seaside Sanatorium in Waterford is a bit of a hotspot.
The abandoned campus on Long Island Sound includes a sprawling building that once served as a facility to treat children with tuberculosis and later people with mental illnesses. The property is still in state hands as development plans grind slowly forward, meaning it’s a popular place for people to check out a free beach. But the sanatorium and its associated buildings are a big draw as well.
Johnna Kaplan for the Waterford Patch, and it seems she went under circumstances appropriate for sending a chill down one’s spine: alone on a foggy, cool spring day. With about a dozen people milling about the campus on a sunny Sunday afternoon, I didn’t get quite the same vibe at first.
But then the sky turned a slate gray with threatening clouds, and each step closer to the building made it seem more like something out of a horror movie. Playground equipment in a courtyard was rusted and slowly being consumed by vegetation. Fighting my way through this brush, I found myself isolated in a dark, semi-enclosed corridor. I put my camera to a pitch-black hole in a window and took a picture, half expecting that the flash would illuminate some lurking wraith. It spotlighted a crumbling bathroom instead.
Windows and doors around the site are covered with plywood, locks, and signs warning people to keep out. One urban exploration website warned that security at the site was tight enough that people shouldn’t even consider entering. Graffiti on the walls showed that these measures clearly hadn’t prevented visitors from getting inside. I later found that one professional photographer even staged some artistic wedding shots in the sanatorium’s decaying rooms.
I opted not to sneak into the sanatorium, tempting though it was. Even if the other visiting that day decided to look the other way or interpret a wandering figure inside the building as one of the ghosts alleged to haunt the property, I’d already gotten a good experience and plenty of interesting photos.
There’s always a balance of sadness and fascination at dilapidated places like Seaside. It had a certain resemblance to Edgerton School, and it’s easy to see the structures as little more than unproductive eyesores in need of new life. Even though they’re on the National Register of Historic Places, the sanatorium buildings seem past saving will more than likely be razed someday. Still, there’s a certain beauty in watching how a place can endure, battered and broken, as a reminder of its former life.