On a planet of seven billion souls, where almost everything has been touched by the hand of man, there's something otherworldly about abandoned places. Empty malls, crumbling movie theaters, deserted hospitals -- these are the places that make our skin crawl.
These are the places places where David Bulit spends his time. Bulit, the man behind the website Abandoned Florida, has been in and out of more abandoned places that most of us probably knew existed. And he's photographed and catalogued every place he's visited, his work reveals a rarely-seen side of human civilization; the rubble we leave behind.
We asked Bulit about his adventures and life as an urban explorer. Here's what he had to say:
New Times: What do you get out of doing what you do?
David Bulit: For me, it's mostly about the photos. These are places that many people probably never knew existed and would probably never see with their own eyes. There's also the fact that abandoned places change rapidly, either due to mother nature or human intervention, be it blatant vandalism, demolition or renovation. So because of that, I also know that many people don't and will never have these same photos.
There's also the history behind these places; the people who lived there, worked there, died there. I always tell people that there's never a good reason why a place is abandoned. It's always an unhappy ending.
What's the most unexpected thing you've come across in your explorations?
Most unexpected thing would probably be a coal mine we explored. I saw photos of it but seeing it in photos was completely different than seeing it in person. From the photos, I could tell there was a deep drop which led deeper into the shaft. When we got there, it was much steeper than we had anticipated, having to almost crawl down on mud and broken shards of metal and glass and then having to climb up by using a mine track as if it was a ladder. One slip and you were definitely going to break some bones on the way down, at the very least.
Any moments when you feared for your life?
I can recall one time when we were checking out a closed down gambling hall and we came upon a couple of homeless guys sleeping inside. We decided to hurry up, grab our photos and leave. Someone came in behind us through the one entrance and my first thought was to alert my friends about him. The guy introduced himself as 'Slimbone' and said he saw us from his apartment balcony just across the street. He said he's always wanted to see inside but never wanted to go in by himself, but after he saw us enter, he figured we looked like great people and invited himself.
I felt this guy was pretty sketchy and pushed my friends into wanting to leave. He kept on saying things into trying to make us to stay longer, having us take pictures of him, check out a room with him, stuff like that. I looked across at the apartment building and noticed that his story had to have been a lie because you can't see us from the apartment balconies as they're blocked by a wall. I'm already paranoid of this guy and in my mind I'm thinking, 'This dude probably called his friends up and is trying to keep us here long enough for them to get here so they can rob us of our gear.'
I finally tell my friends that we have to go right now and we finally left.
As we leave and circle back around the highway, we saw a car parked on the driveway to the gambling hall.
What's the creepiest spot you've ever visited?
That's an easy one, a condominium tower my friend had nicknamed 'The Devil's Tower.' So we drive by the building and we see a truck parked out back and we think it's either security or scrappers. We don't get spooked or give up that easily so we drive back there in this big, white Tahoe we had rented and see that the truck did I'm fact belong to scrappers. As we rode up on them, they were trying to get a stainless steel kitchen counter onto a trailer they hooked up to their truck.
My friend got out and with confidence and authority, asked them a few questions. Who are you guys? How many of you are with you? Is there anyone else in the building? The guy said it was just him and one other and that there were maybe 3-4 junkies on the upper floors of the building. With that knowledge, we drove off to get some supplies we had forgotten like batteries and one of my friends needed an extra sweater as it was raining and around 30 degrees.
We drove back and noticed the scrappers had left. We parked next door, got our gear together and walked across the parking lot to the front entrance. The windows on the front doors were gone so entry was easy. It's usually our style to explore bigger buildings like this from top to bottom, just in case if you feel tired, winded, or if you get injured, it'll occur closer to the bottom floors than at the top where its harder to get you out. If that works or not, I'm not sure but that's we did. We found the stairs and went straight to roof.
Unlike a normal building, this one was circular so you were in view of around 8 doors at all times so someone could easily be watching you and could jump out from any of them. As we worked our way down, each floor got creepier and creepier. Some of the rooms were barred from the inside and the only way to them was through holes people had carved out of the walls in adjacent rooms.
One particular room, we opened up the door and saw someone scuttle away in the dark and we quickly backed away from the door. After a moment of wondering what we should do, we shined our lights as one of my friends opened the door. A man was standing there, like a deer caught in headlights. We let the door swing closed and yelled through the door, "You cool man?" We don't want any trouble. "If you're cool, we're cool and if we're cool, you're cool," he replied. He was alright.
We decided to head downstairs some more where it got more nerve wracking. Many of the rooms had barriers built out of the furniture, obviously to keep people from attacking or stealing from whoever built them but it looked like it was straight out of a zombie movie. It was around this time when we started hearing noises coming from some of the closed doors around us and then a door shut. We decided this was probably too much and decided to leave.
We went down and took pictures of the nightclub and a small movie theater which were on the bottom floor. As were leaving, the homeless man we had scared upstairs was waiting in the lobby. He simply walked down the hall as we approached, leaned up near a doorway and eyeballed us. We went outside and went to the take pictures of the pool. The guy followed us outside and stood by the entrance, just pacing back and forth, staring at us.
And that was that. He walked back inside and we left.
Any tips for newbies interested in urban exploration?
Get a friend and start with something that's well known, most larger cities have an abandonment that many people in the area know about and frequent. Here in South Florida, we have a couple like the Nike missile base off of Krome Avenue or the Miami Marine Stadium.
Once you get your feet wet, try making friends online by joining forums or groups on Facebook. Find the people interested in photography and you'll find the ones interested in exploring as well. Started by my friend Nomeus 8 years ago, I now run www.flurbex.com and the Flurbex Facebook group, so you can find like-minded people on those sites as well.
Do research, don't buy gear until you've looked into it. There's plenty of resources on the web to help you out be it flashlights, respirators or camera gear.
I also have some resources on my own website, www.abandonedfl.com which can help you get started as well such as trespassing laws and what type of gear to buy. I currently working on a guide for beginners so you can expect that in the future as well.
Most of all, be respectful of the places you visit, be safe and have fun.
This year's MasterMind Award winners will be announced February 26 at Artopia, our annual soirée celebrating Miami culture. For tickets and more information, visit newtimesartopia.com.
Follow Hannah on Twitter @hannahgetshappy.
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