Gapers Block has ceased publication.

Gapers Block published from April 22, 2003 to Jan. 1, 2016. The site will remain up in archive form. Please visit Third Coast Review, a new site by several GB alumni.
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Friday, March 31

Gapers Block

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Everyone I know has seen The Goonies. I love that movie. When you were a kid, you wanted to be one of them. You wanted to be Data, or Mikey or his brother, one of the girls or maybe Chunk, maybe even Sloth. It was the perfect childhood movie: a bunch of ragtag kids, underdogs out to save their futures, with pirate treasure thrown in, some lore and much adventure.

When I lived in London, my sister and I had a notebook we kept, "Goonies Forever" doodled on the cover, that chronicled the hijinks and adventures we got into along with a friend of ours. One time when we decided we'd have our own little Goonies adventure in our block of flats. There was a basement area that was a little hidden away, dark, scary and mysterious. A complete child magnet, of course. We headed down there, with flashlights and toy gadgets that made us feel like we were ready for anything. It was dark and scary, but yet we couldn't stop moving and exploring. It was exhilarating.


Urban exploration is a simple idea, much like exploring a rural area -- woods, forest preserves, mountains -- only in a city environment instead. And no, it's not exploring your local behemoth of a mall. It means finding an abandoned, usually off-limits area and poking around, seeing what's left, getting a feel for the history of the place. It allows you to see a world or experience something you may never have seen. Factories, warehouses, subway tunnels, railway tracks -- you get the idea. There is both a thrill and a sense of danger in being in a place you probably shouldn't be.


My sister, our friend and I kept walking down a long hallway, briefly seeing shafts of light cutting through cracks in the floors of the flats above. Our flashlights didn't carry our eyes far enough ahead, and there was only brick on either side. There seemed to be a door somewhere further ahead.


In such an urban environment as Chicago, there are plenty of abandoned and forgotten concrete structures to go around. I happen to know one of them.

The building is located west of the Loop, near UIC, and from inside you can see the highway running into the city. It's a large warehouse/factory space that no one occupies, save for a few people who have appropriated a section for their clandestine use. Although I've visited them often, I haven't gotten to explore the rest of the building, so recently a friend and I took the opportunity, cameras in hand, through the rest of the space.


We finally reached the door at the end of the long dark hallway. There was a small window yellowed and opaque from a thick surface of dust and grime. The door was ominous. I remember scaring myself into thinking that a person like Sloth from The Goonies could be in there, locked away. Even with my sister and our friend behind me, I felt completely alone. The dark and the unknown will do that to you.


My friend and I penetrated the building's weak defenses and made our way up the stairs, passing the clearly labeled "Boiler Room" in the basement. A perfect setting for a slasher film: the door to it was slightly ajar, and you could see nothing but black inside. We walked upstairs and I thought to myself that this was not a place I could come to on my own. It's silent in the building save for the occasional pitter-patter of a leaking fire hose, which scares me every time -- it seems like the announcement of someone. We kept walking up the stairs, peeking into doorways and hallways, not knowing what was beyond the second floor where my friends do their thing.


My sister and our friend eventually whispered in panicked voices to "get out of here." I turned around and started walking quickly -- not quickly enough, it seemed, as I was now on the tail end of our adventure party and the dark and the unopened door seemed to swallow up the space behind me. I tried to not look back.


We became comfortable after we got to the higher floors where the windows were wide open, and we started to take photos. The sunlight was streaming in, casting shadows in certain areas, and we basked in it to shake off any goose bumps that we may have had. Unfinished drywall was graffiti-tagged with the words "Save" or "Don't Save." Despite their obvious meaning, they felt eerie; the writing was haphazard and rushed, as if someone was trying to communicate something in their last moments. You have to love how the mind tries to mess with you!


As we Goonies were about halfway to where we came in (we could see the light in the distance), we all heard what sounded like a cough somewhere not far behind us. We started to run, scared silent and thinking as hard as we could about something else to block out even the hint that we might hear another cough in the darkness behind us.


I came across a stairwell that lead up to darkness. While my friend stayed in the light, I decided to walk up into the darkness. My nerves were racing against each other. When I got upstairs, I looked to my right and could see about ten feet before it was consumed by black. I looked to my left and saw a doorway about 60 feet away that I didn�t want to discover, the distance between where I stood and there was too much. As I stood there looking, I creeped myself out by remembering that ten feet away, an unknown blackness was behind me. I remembered the basement door, the cough; I quickly turned around, called myself "chickenshit" and almost ran down the stairs and into the light. Definitely not a place to come to alone.


Our little band of Goonies made it to the light, up the stairs and into London�s chill Fall air. We went up to our flat and plopped down on the carpeted floor, spread out, not having to say to each other that we wouldn�t be doing that again. At least not anytime soon.


My friend found a door to the fire escape, which lead to the rooftop. This was exciting. I�d been wanting to get out on a rooftop on a building in Chicago for ages. We stepped out onto the stairs up, me first, and with each step, the metal bent a little under my weight. That was scary. I got to the roof with a quickness and lightness reserved for ninjas, and encouraged my friend to do the same. The view that awaited us made it all worth it.

Our film finished and flashcards filled, we made our way back downstairs quietly, and out into the alley behind the building. As we walked back to my friend's car, chatting, my mind brought back the memory of my sister and our friend exploring a dark basement we probably shouldn�t have been in. I had to smile. Goonies forever.


craig / August 22, 2003 1:17 PM

Ah Urban Exploration... my college past-time... My friends and I "vadded" the steam tunnels beneath our Virginia Tech campus many many times... amoung other "off limits" places. Our exploits can be found here: - The site is a but obtuse, but there are some cool pictures, and some creepy articles about workers who died in the steam tunnels when a pipe blew up in the 70s.

Also this site seems to be down but there is a quite active group here in Chicago:

kiplog / August 22, 2003 1:29 PM

What makes some of us want to see what's past rusted locked gates? Where all you see beyond them is darkness? It's an irresitable curiosity. The darkness and the scariness amplifies the importance of a place that isn't much more than an an empty underground hallway. The temporary terror, the intense internal signals that tell you to leave... right now..., can't compete with the permanent groping of that curiousity, that will forever ask, what was in there?

I have extensive experience in underground exploration, both as a caver and as a licensed hazardous material specialist for a demolition company with years of experience crawling around under cities, through tunnels, and other dark places. I've done quite a bit of unauthorized exploring in everything from abandoned amusement parks to abandoned WWII batteries. Identifying the dangers and taking the outmost care is the primary behavior in exploration. If this isn't your first thought before entering a room, touching anything, or daring a friend to do something, stick to skatebording or surfing or something else where there's plenty of people available to rescue you and take you to a hospital if you hurt yourself.

I have serious hesitations in publishing my descriptions and images of wonderfully scary places. Cavers have a kind of "cosa nostra' code of silence, where the entrances of caves are never spoken of in public. A few semi-organized groups of local explorers do exist, but I disapproved in the spirit in which they approached the sport, as well as the recklessness of their leadership. All to often these activities are done not for the purpose of pure exploration, but for the bravado that the risk embraces. Such bravado induces vandalism and disregard for the dangers involved.

Perhaps I'm just 'chickenshit' but a bit of common sense will keep such exploration out of the news.

wiz of odds / August 31, 2003 11:31 AM

Urban exploration...I've never heard of this before. So this is an actual thing that groups of people do, find abandoned spots to poke around in? Interesting. I don't think I ever would have thought to do that. If this is the building I'm thinking of (with the blue wooden front), it used to house illegal card games. And Paul--you're a licensed hazardous materials inspector? What exactly don't you know?


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