PA Clothing Factory, June 2013
This was another one of Matthew Christopher’s completely legal tour/workshops, and the disorienting lack of skulduggery (meaning we rolled up at 10am, parked directly across from the building, and entered through the front door, talking loudly) led me to reflect upon the allure of UE, to wit: is it still enjoyable if there’s no possibility of receiving a cavity search from an overzealous rent-a-cop?
As a side note, skulduggery may not be the correct word, but it sounds right, and also it (probably) came from a Scottish word meaning fornication, which is another good reason to use it. Skulduggery.
People often ask me to explain the allure of UE, why I would spend my free time crawling around in unsafe structures filled with asbestos and (presumably) rabid, territorial raccoons. For me, it’s the convergence of myriad boyhood interests:
First off, getting to these locations often involves a hike through the woods, which takes me right back to all the weekends I spent exploring the forested areas in suburbs North of Seattle (Brier, Lynnwood, Mountlake Terrace). Those were the hours when I was free of parental supervision, free to run and climb and chase and hide and splash around in the shallow creeks and return home exhausted and filthy, knees and elbows a tapestry of scrapes and bruises.
Then there is the attraction of proprietary knowledge. I grew up in a church that told me we had The Truth, and it was a Truth unique to us, concealed from (most of) the rest of hellbound humanity. (I’m using “hellbound” metaphorically, since JW’s don’t actually believe in Hell, but I think you get my meaning.) That was a powerful feeling, and when it was gone I felt the loss. I suspect that’s part of the thrill associated with knowing how to get into Hospital 7 or School 2, special information shared by an elite group of like-minded folks, and concealed from the masses.
Thirty years in a rule-bound fundamentalist community also left me with a profound attraction to (and fear of) breaking the rules, of being somewhere I’m not supposed to be. Skulking around an abandoned hospital, peeking through keyholes for any sign of security patrols, I recognize the same sick dread/adrenaline rush that I had as a teenager, sneaking out of the house past curfew or kissing my best friend’s sister on the roller coaster at Enchanted Village. This is the component that’s missing on these legal explorations.
The pleasure that comes from creating an evocative photograph, and the joy of extrapolating a narrative from the things left behind (medical records, childrens’ clothing, mildewed copies of Jewish prayer books or the Victoria Principal issue of Playboy) – those came later.
I’m curious to hear from other UE folks – what is the attraction for you?
Oh, yeah – these are some pictures I took in an abandoned clothing factory in (name of city redacted), PA. Here’s the blurb from Matthew’s site, describing the location:
Originally built in 1910 as a silk mill, this mill employed 110 people by 1914. Of those, fourteen were boys and twenty eight were girls under the age of sixteen. When synthetic Rayon was introduced the decline for silk declined and the factory went out of business, laying off all of its mostly female workforce.
The mill sat vacant until it was purchased to consolidate three factories in the 1930s. It mainly produced girls’ and ladies’ dresses. One of the economic tentpoles of the region, this factory continued to operate with a clothing outlet on the bottom floor until the early 1990s, when cheaper garment manufacturing in the south drove it out of business.
P.S. If you would like to join one of Matthew’s future tours (and you really should because they’re great and also I get a small commission for each referral), check out his website for info and announcements.
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