Urbex – the abbreviation for Urban Exploration. Discovering and rediscovering abandoned, lost, restricted or hidden man-made structures. It can be legal, a gray area, or illegal. Some explorers go to extreme lengths – they creep and sneak into interesting locations, picking locks, hopping barbed-wire fences and avoiding security. Most stick with exploring more accessible locations, those abandoned and wide open. I’ve been lucky -  in the 1970’s I was able to explore the lost WWII catacombs under Chicago’s Ford City Shopping Center. In the 1970’s-2000 I was an avid wreck diver – underwater UrbEx. From 1994-2004 I worked with the Army Corps of Engineers and spent days on the Chicago Water Cribs, with Chicago Marine Unit, in the Water Filtration Plant, and other normally restricted areas. In later years I fed my UrbEx habit by exploring abandoned ships. More recently it’s been back to my UrbEx roots – abandoned buildings. Primarily Gary, Indiana and Chicago, Illinois.

If you want to delve into the world of UrbEx, first find a group or a friend who’s already into it.  Don’t go solo. There’s a MeetUp group for UrbEx, but unfortunately (I know this from experience) there are police informers there. Those “gray areas” I mentioned? Basically they are fine if you don’t get caught. If you do, it’s usually just a “get out of there!” warning.  But it really ruins a potentially good exploring day when you show up at a site and the police are waiting for you.  That happened with almost every trip scheduled through the Meetup group, and often with trips scheduled via the Facebook Meetup groups. Articles on UrbEx (or just Google it!):

Some people explore for the thrill, others to take photos. I do it for both.  Either way, you’ll need a minimum amount of gear: Long pants, work boots, a powerful spot light, and ideally a head-lamp. Water is a good idea, as are snack bars. Most places you’ll visit are out of the way – no food, water or bathrooms! Some areas are dangerous. There are a two different types of danger: The location itself and the area. Many abandoned buildings are in very bad, crime ridden neighborhoods. Only go in groups – never alone, pay attention, be careful where you park. Watch for homeless and squatters. The other danger, the location, varies. Rotting floors, walls that can cave-in at a touch, rusty metal, broken glass, asbestos, stairs that are more like soggy ramps, environments so wet and moldy that a person with asthma would pass out in a few minutes – these are common.  Some locations are well knows – City Methodist Church, in Gary, Indiana for example. Transformers III, the new Nightmare on Elm Street and many other movies have used it as a location. The sanctuary in this Gothic church is a photographers dream. Little danger there – as long as you watch for crumbling walls and loose bricks.  The other part of the building, the retail, offices, school and BB-court are a little more dangerous. On a scale of 1-10, the sanctuary is a 1. The roof is a 6. Some parts of the building, especially the upper levels are a 6.

NEVER take weapons, tools, spray paint, lock-picks, etc. If you are caught the police WILL assume you are up to "no good" and probably arrest you. ALWAYS take a small pocket knife. If you get tangled in something, get snagged, or even get a shoelace stuck on something, it can be a ligesaver.

Also in Gary is the Palace Theater. This starts at a 3 and goes up to a 8. Holes in floors, rusty metal everywhere, long drops, very damp. Probably the unhealthiest building I have been in in decades.

The bottom line – look around, especially on long road trips. You’ll often see old barns, abandoned homes and more.  UrbEx can be as close as the next block over!