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Friday, July 29, 2011

5 Amazing Abandoned Wastelands ... Within Walking Distance



Abandoned places have a certain exotic appeal. There's something in these haunting images that speaks to us about the crumbling of society's facades, the fleeting nature of civilization, the implacable will of nature and the ability to throw bottles at shit without The Man giving you guff. But short of something horrible, like a major apocalyptic disaster or a mid-length hike, how could you ever get to see the post-apocalyptic world of tomorrow, today? Well, hell, son: These things are all around you. Some of the craziest abandoned places in the world are here in the cities we live in, in some cases literally right beneath your feet at this very moment.

#5. North Brother Island

North Brother Island is a 20-acre plot of land in New York that lies completely empty. And it's not located in the far-flung, savage jungles of eastern New York, or the desolate, barren tundra of northern New York -- it's right there in the part pop culture has taught us to recognize: New York City. You can easily see the Bronx from the beach.
In the 19th century, a hospital for infectious diseases was housed on North Brother Island. The facility had its share of controversy: Poor medical practices and harsh climates led to a high death rate, and, oh yeah -- this was also the place that let Typhoid Mary out into the city and started the second round of a lethal Typhoid Fever epidemic back in the early 1900s. They eventually recaptured her and quarantined her on the island until her death. It was also used as a facility for the grievously war-wounded, and finally as one of the very first teenage rehab centers back in the 1950s.
Now, any one of those histories would make it a perfectly suitable location for a horror movie: The home of tormented, diseased patients that died in a 19th century hospital, the nightmarish ruins that once housed the glorious dead and dying, or a set of crumbling remains still echoing with the insanity and trauma of an experimental psychiatric ward in the 1950s. These are all fantastic settings for the discriminating white, big-bosomed heroine to get ghost-plagued, ripped apart by mad soldier-spirits still bound by misguided duty, or electro-shocked by insane pubescent apparitions, respectively. It's a triple-threat kind of place.
"Triple" is perhaps aiming a tad low.
Unfortunately for breathless blue-eyed vixens everywhere, the public is not allowed to visit the island. The last operating facility was closed decades ago, citing reasons of "corruption." If it seems kind of strange to shut down 20 acres of prime real estate in the largest city in the country just because of some shaky business ethics 20 years ago, there's also this little tidbit: In 1904, the General Slocum, a ship ferrying passengers to Long Island, burst into flames and ran aground on North Brother Island, where over 1,000 -- not a typo -- people died in the ensuing blaze.
Hey, nobody said the "corruption" that necessitated the island's complete quarantine was of a bureaucratic nature.

#4. The Old Los Angeles Zoo

In Griffith Park, Los Angeles, you can find the abandoned ruins of the old L.A. County Zoo. Rather than demolishing the place when the new one was built, the city opted to leave it open for the public as a kind of museum, though an entirely unattended one. That's right: You can walk up into the L.A. hills right now and wander through a real life Scooby Doo set, and you won't even be breaking one of those half-enforced "Darn Meddling Kids" laws. If the rusting, empty cages and rotting enclosures again put you in mind of horror tropes, don't worry: You won't be dodging any ghost-rhinos here.
Because animals don't have souls. Everybody knows that, silly vegetarian! It's why eating bacon is delicious, but eating man is a crime. So no spirits here! Why, the worst thing that could happen to you in the isolated, abandoned ruins of the Old L.A. Zoo (still complete with functional cages) is some good old fashioned hobo-rape in the reptile house.
I'm sorry, that sounded theoretical, didn't it? I meant to say that if you go here, you absolutely will get hobo-raped in the reptile house. That's where Big Raping Jim is currently squatting.
Oh, don't worry -- the name's ironic. (He's not actually that big; he's just really good with knives).

#3. Fort Carroll

Fort Carroll is yet another suspiciously abandoned island occupying prime city real estate. Well, maybe "prime' is being a bit generous: It's located just offshore of Baltimore, Maryland. The fort is a sinister walled stronghold, surrounded on all sides by water - a design choice that's just begging to be invaded by some sort of Chuck Norris, or failing that, certain species of Van Damme.
There were no great disasters that caused Fort Carroll to be abandoned. The most action it ever saw was post-WWII, when it was briefly used as a firing range. It changed hands several times after that, where various owners planned casinos, public parks or museums. These all failed for boring, economic reasons; none of them due to suave British men firing wrist-lasers into shark tanks. But still, for the discerning villain with a predilection for the classics, Fort Carroll is practically begging to be filled with sexy female ninjas, or armed men in mono-color tracksuits, depending on budget.
Again, this island is ostensibly "off-limits" to urban explorers, but there are pretty firm air quotes around that term, as you could simply take a quick boat ride or a long swim out there on any given day.
The boat ride will take you right to where the island sits, where you'll find the fort beside the Key Bridge in the Patapsco River, while the swim will take you right to the emergency room, where you'll find you have a raging case of Marine Hepatitis.

 #2. Unnamed London Tunnels

Beneath the streets of London, there is a vast, mile-long network of tunnels. And while they may be abandoned, they're not like the rest of the entries on this list: They're actually still in peak condition. They were used as community bomb shelters during WWII, and were built with every amenity needed to keep a whole society happy, healthy and entertained for up to five weeks. There are full, functioning restaurants, rec rooms, pool halls, movie theaters and even pubs down there, just waiting to be used.
The aesthetics are all original too, so the design of the residential tunnel areas is still in keeping with '50s sensibilities. If Fallout's vault sections stirred something in the crazy isolationist in you, well you'll be happy to know that those things are plenty real, and they're conveniently located right in the heart of London. All utilities -- electricity, water and phone -- still function just fine, because the tunnels have been occupied at various points in history by codebreakers, soldiers, British Secret Service and eventually the BT Group, a European phone company. The last owners put the tunnels up for sale back in 2008, to the tune of $7.4 million dollars. Though they wanted to keep both the entrance:
... and the name of their prospective buyer a secret, rumors say the latter was a man named Simon Woodroff, who we can only assume is a roguish chap living a seemingly devil-may-care playboy lifestyle, yet plagued by grief, anger issues and a rather unhealthy penchant for winged nocturnal rodents.

#1. Beijing's Nuclear City

During the Cold War, Chairman Mao commissioned the largest bomb shelter in the world, right beneath the streets of Beijing, China. It was intended to house six million people, and it was all interconnected. See, he didn't want his citizens to merely survive a nuclear attack -- he actually wanted the city to continue to function, unimpeded, even as radioactive hellfire rained down from above.
He had chairs and everything; society could go on.
And while that might seem insane to you or I, we have to think of it like ordering Chinese food: You're not supposed to order dishes for each individual, as is customary in the West, you're supposed to order one giant, concrete dish that entire populations can live in together, underground, while the world above crumbles and burns. That analogy may have escaped me a little, but I'll tell you what it won't escape: The labyrinthine maze of Mao's subterranean city.
The bunker was never completely finished, but it's so vast that nobody can tell you how far it was, exactly, from completion. It is widely believed that the tunnels, as they exist now, manage to connect up with all major points in Beijing: Tiananmen Square, Central Station, the West Hills - it has tendrils everywhere. One man documented his recent descent into the tunnels, which he described as being accessible only through an abandoned, nondescript storefront. Once down there, he found this map:
Which showed him where the Compass and Boss Key were, and he got to trekking. He stumbled across the usual stuff at first - damp concrete, brick, a sense of creeping, claustrophobic dread -- until he tried a light switch and found that the half-century old, abandoned underground city still inexplicably gets working electricity.
He forded onward, until, after hours of scrabbling across garbage and debris in the half light of the crumbling tunnels, he turned a corner and walked right into this:
Possibly the most terrifying scenario in which one can encounter mystery underwear.
At the end of that tunnel, a "homeless" family had set up house in the forgotten ruins of this sunken bunker-city, complete with a full working kitchen:
And some lovely house plants -- you know, to spruce up the place.
Plus, supermutants hate and fear our surface flora, as they find their sickening, organic, leafy structures strange and alien. Everybody knows that.