Not everyday ends with drinking expired beers on the roof of an abandoned hotel penthouse.
But today was one of those days.
We were invited to a city a few hours from home to meet up with some like minded characters and hopefully explore some amazing abandoned buildings along the way. Running on cheese slices, coffee, and 4 hours of sleep I was anxious to finally see what this small midwest town had to offer.
We finally arrive in this tiny city and begin to scope the area out. It immediately felt strange. Highrises and wide streets everywhere, yet a suspicious lack of traffic and people for rush hour.
It felt like a city teddering on the edge of becoming a ghost town. It felt like everyone got raptured away, and we’re just left roaming the streets.
Where were all the people? It was odd. With a bit of daylight left we go to check into our hotel. Arriving at the front desk we find…No one.
We ring the bell and wait. Nothing. The TV is playing in the lobby but no one is watching. I call the front desk and the phone rings, no one answers. I joke that we’re in the twilight zone. What hotel doesn’t have anyone at the front desk?
I use this opportunity to snag a free yogurt from the back kitchen, but as soon as I walk out a figure appears from the dimly lit front desk. “Yall checkin in?” he says. He looks at me with my recently procured yogurt, he clearly doesn’t care. He’d rather be anywhere else.
After a respectable amount of beer and playing with our panorama settings on our phone for 2 hours, we settle in for an early start to conquer the morning.
Rise To The Occasion
6am came quicker than me my freshman year.
After some free bean water and a solid deuce we were off to meet up with some locals who would guide us through the ruins of their hometown.
We meet up with the group, and like most explorers, instantly have a common bond. These guys know their stuff, and have been exploring the depths of their city for years. Only after a few minutes it was clear that these were my kind of people.
As the sun peaks its head over the horizon we start to approach the hotel. It ominously towered over downtown, and as we get closer it appears to be completely boarded. It was sealed tighter than a.. Ehh never mind.
After some deliberation we finally find a way in. Getting this many people into an abandoned building unnoticed is no easy task, especially on a city street corner. Thanks to the ‘rapture’ our presence was largely unnoticed. As we make our way down the pitch black stairs we come to a large well lit opening.
The power is on..
This is always initially an unsettling feeling for two reasons. First, power means alarms and cameras, and those are not fun. Second, power usually means the site is active in some way with either construction workers or other inhabitants. No bueno.
We quietly make our way into the half lit lobby, and something odd catches my eye. A half gallon of milk. Next to it a nearly full box of cereal. I jokingly tell my friend to drink the milk, and upon checking the expiration date we find that it only expired two days ago..
We were not alone.
I know it sounds stupid, but of all the ‘spooky’ things you may associate with abandoned places, recent human activity is at the top of my list.
We now venture deeper into the lobby and back towards some offices. Chairs were stacked, and mountains of telephones spilled onto the floor. It’s clear that there was at least an attempt to salvage some of this place.
As I move closer to the back, I hear a familiar humming. I turn the corner and to my surprise I see a computer light flickering against the wall. I turned on the monitor and was greeted with a logon and password. This computer still worked.
Now what I’m describing might seem like we’re in an active hotel but I can assure you, we are not. With mold covering the paint chipped walls this place hasn’t seen a guest in over 5 years.
We attempt to guess the first password and fail. Luckily there is a second account. My friend keys in the good old trusty “1234” and what do you know, we’re in.
The managers desktop slowly loaded as the hard drive grinded away. On the desktop we find notes on the front desk staff, income reports, and lastly a chore list typed out for his daughter. It read:
“Wash and dry the dishes. Vacuum the living room and dining room. Do all of your homework. Wash windows once a week. Help mom and dad with anything else.”
What happened to his guy? Was he laid off? Did he ever get another job? It’s weird seeing personal anecdotes mixed with spreadsheets and monthly reports. I locked the computer and backed away to see what more this odd abandoned hotel had to offer.
Stumbling through the darkness I slam into something large. It rattled and shifted forward a bit. I look down and to my delight it was a cart filled with beer and liquor. Mind you, all this expired in about 2016. But hell, rum at 7am doesn’t mean you have a problem. It means you are a pirate.
Beverages in hand we begin the long climb up the emergency stairs. A flickering exit sign catches my attention on the 4th floor. We all decided to check it out. The hallways were completely lit, elevators were out of order, paint was ripped off the walls, and trash everywhere.
It looked like there was a massive fight in the halls and then everyone suddenly left.
One by one we started opening hotel room doors, and to our surprise the rooms looked mostly untouched. The TVs played nothing but static, and the alarm clocks all flashed 12:00. The Twilight Zone joke was quickly becoming more of a reality.
After kicking our feet up in one of the fancy corner room suites, we continue up the seemingly endless stairs towards the elusive penthouse. But on the way, we encountered many horrific obstacles.
Horrors Of The Deep
With nothing but the light of our flashlights, it’s hard to tell what floor we’re on in the cramped staircase. Suddenly at the base of the stairs we encounter huge amounts of trash that begin sliding down towards us. We manage to get around it, but it’s obvious someone was living here, and we were in his trash can.
The trash gets increasingly worse as empty styrofoam containers filled with shit begin to come into view. We all pause and look at each other as if it say “Do we really want to continue?” Without a complaint we push on, avoiding all the feces, trash, and torn out porn pages.
We come to a landing, and decide to cut in. We’re not quite at the top, but we’re close. The trash subsides and we’re back to more drafty well lit hallways. Most rooms are the same with your oddball here or there.
One room, looks like a murder scene with fake blood splattered across the walls. Another down the hall had a nest of hair dryers and blankets in the corner, evidence of homeless using the rooms for shelter and warmth.
As we try not to disturb anyone living in some of the locked rooms, we make the last leg of our journey up, you guessed it, more stairs.
As we approach the top the wind kicks up and howls through the broken windows. The wind is loud, but over the wind I hear a banging. Something is banging a window. Something wants out.
It didn’t take too long to figure out what that something was. As we finally get to the penthouse the entire stairway is covered in dead birds. Dozens of bird corpses litter the floor, this penthouse has become their tomb.
On the second to last floor the banging gets louder. I round the corner to find a few birds stuck in one of the vacant rooms. They had flown through a broken window, and now can’t get out.
They repeatedly fly into the unbroken panes of glass, desperately trying to escape. Even as we open another window for them to leave, another would fly in. It’s clear that their situation is hopeless and no matter what we did, more birds would likely die here.
The $10,00,000 View
As we leave the birds to their fate, we make it to the final set of stairs. The building transforms. I can only describe it as an apocalyptic 1960s hideout. A stairlift winds up to the green tacky penthouse floor. The room was covered in empty White Claws, Christmas decorations, and mannequin heads. I couldn’t make this up if I tried.
Although the room was chaotic, I belonged in that chaos. As I rounded the corner to the kitchen I was taken aback by what was for dinner, a long necked mannequin head in a frying pan staring back at me. After trading some stories with our new friends we decided to move on to the last place on our list, the pool.
The pool was amazing and overlooked the city. It was completely empty and proved to be the perfect playground. We turned on some music, cracked another beer and took a group shot to commemorate the moment.
With all the foolishness going on I couldn’t help but look out at the city and feel a sense of accomplishment. All of the tense moments, tedious planning, and hours of driving were worth it.
It’s why most explorers do what they do, to feel a sense of freedom and mystery in a space with no rules. And take some bad ass pictures along the way of course.
As the sun began to set we carefully made our way out, sealing the exit behind us. None of this would have been possible if it wasn’t for our new friends.
The saying really is true. If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.