Photo Essay


You First

Urban exploration uncovers unique places. As my fellow photographers Ben, Chris and I entered the decrepit St. Mary's Infirmary, we had no understanding of the unnerving experience we were about to uncover. The boarded-up, century-old structure looked like an exciting place for some photography. Little did we know that each photo we took would unveil images of the past.

Throughout its history, the infirmary served as a hospital, medical training facility, detox center, and rehabilitation center. Clearly, the walls have seen and heard remarkable events. As we walked through the complex, upturned hospital beds and empty bedrooms added to the building's disturbing energy. We moved slowly and deliberately as if not to disturb who or what might remain. We all had mixed emotions. Fear and uncertainty mixed with eagerness and curiosity.

The most noticeable parts of the infirmary included its long hallways caked in dirt. Light from the setting sun created long shadows. As we moved from floor to floor, the exploration became a race to get the first shots of untouched history. Ben described it perfectly, "I feel like we're in another world. Another time." As we ascended, we became perplexed by further mystery.

My biggest scare came as I entered the 4th floor on the south side of the infirmary. As I turned the corner, a small beige room with crumbling walls housed a wheelchair facing the window. I glanced out the window and then bent down to shoot a photo. Slowly turning, I fell to the ground as I saw two legs in the wheelchair without a torso. Clearly a prank left by former explorers, I had to sit down for a few minutes as my heart raced. Sometimes, being the first to uncover a photographic opportunity can have its drawbacks.

Without a doubt, the infirmary contained an energy all of its own. Chris remarked, "I feel like the walls are talking to me. Like I can hear people screaming. This is one eerie place." Every time we entered a bedroom, we imagined patients or addicts dealing with pain, frustration, agony, and loneliness. Even though the infirmary was completely abandoned, life and emotion were present.

By the end of our journey, we had seen the perfect setting for a horror movie. Broken floors. Staircases without railings. Mysterious hallways. Endless darkness. As we slowly walked back to the car, our excitement was clear. As the sun set behind us, one thought was certain: we were coming back.

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