Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Kings Park Psychiatric Center

   Feel free to call this the day of last second escapes.

   Out from beyond the shadows of New York City, way out in Long Island is an abandoned psychiatric ward that was  once situated in Kings Park. When we heard that there were plans to demolish a lot of the buildings, we decided that a trip would have to be in effect.

   As usual, I was getting tea from our meeting spot, where we talked for five minutes about whatever it is that people talk about. The tea spills down into my body and gives off a warm, radiating glow from my insides.

An old lady turns to my partner and compliments her:

"I love your hair!"

   Thanks, lady. It's purple. Who wouldn't love it? We are discussing the sketchiness of the group with whom we are about to embark, unsure if they are the most trustworthy, when we catch a glimpse of the train schedule. Penn Station to Kings Park: 10:38. It is 10:37.

   We race up to the ticket lady, money in hand.

  "Two one-way to Kings Park for 10:38!", we yell, and practically throw our money at her post from a foot away.

   She gives us our tickets and screams out, "You got one minute; go!" from her booth as we run to hop on the Long Island Railroad. We spot the train and get in.

"Wait. Is this the right track?"

   We check our tickets to verify that we took the correct turn, and as it turned out, we had jumped on the wrong train! Striding across the platform, we make our way to the right train, and collapse inside at the very second that the doors begin to close.

   Hearts pounding, heavy breaths fogging up the air, we get a seat and let ourselves blow off some steam while contemplating our good fortune. Sit back, relax, and watch the scenery go by. The city fades.

   When everyone meets up, we are in what was, at that time, my largest exploring group. We get a ride there and look up at the magnificent decaying beauty that is Kings Park Psychiatric Center. It's places like these that make a trip outside the city worth the train fare.

   We access the aboveground part of that tall building via the tunnels which connect the entire complex from underground. Respirators on, everyone!

   These steam tunnels are coated with a thick layer of asbestos. So much so that pipes are covered in a coat a few inches thick. As you walk, it snows. The tunnels are so dark that it takes quite a few flashlights to get any decent light in. When everything goes dark, you can see very faint rays of light from entry/exit points in the tunnel. Some parts of this basement are flooded, and others involve climbing a rickety ladder almost at its breaking point.

   Since it is so extensive and maze-like, it would be very easy to get lost in these tunnels. Still, my obsession with the catacombs and the underground made it quite fun. Fortunately, our guide had memorized the layout: an imprint left in his cranium.

"I absorb details like a sponge", he boasted.

   I believed him. It was no small feat for anyone to figure their way through these steam tunnels. He gave certain stretches names like "Hell Tunnel" and "Satan's Asshole". When we crawled through "Hell Tunnel", I could see that it was aptly named. We all had to contort our bodies above and below a mess of pipes, at certain point, crawling so low to the ground that we were in pitch blackness and breathing in the asbestos from the ground. Wonderful way to spend Spring Break.

   The complex is huge, and there was a lot to explore. There was a large coal processor, and I watched some of the group kick bits of rubbish down. My eyes followed the beer cans clattering around in the metal as they fell. Something hauntingly beautiful about the rattling noises that the cans made as they crunched all the way down.

   There were large oil tanks just itching to be climbed. There was a light panel that one of the group members managed to rip open, sending dazzling electrical sparks flying. There was a busted out elevator, and peering through the shaft, we could see that the rope went a long way down. There were fallen grates that we all had to jump over. If we hadn't made the leap then it would have been a painful twenty foot sprawl to the ground. There were rusting bathrooms, paint peeling off the walls, and broken glass. The decay of it all piques a curiosity, making you wonder how a once active building found itself to be in such deplorable conditions today.

It truly struck me how much ordinary life went on as usual in King Park. Old couples walked around the complex without giving the decaying buildings much thought. A football game went on in a field several stories below us. Once in a while we would get the occasional jeer,

"Don't go in there, its haunted!"

By what, who knows? The only orbs I saw were the balls of asbestos I kicked up underground.

We went to the very top; the highest rooftop that I'd ever been on thus far while exploring. It rose from the ground thirteen stories high. Lucky thirteen. The wind was blowing pleasantly; below, the Long Island greenery and waters rippled.

At they very edge of the roof, our guide stood up and took a picture of himself balancing on the ledge. Risk, but freedom. That's what exploring is all about.

We made our way down the stairs, though I had done it a little more slowly than the others, and at a certain point, got separated from the group.

Now, we were seven people strong, but I could not hear anything. No signs of footsteps or voices. My phone had practically no signal, and I had made a call that nobody returned. The complex was so huge that all of the voices were drowned out. Drowned out like my hopes of reconnecting with the group. 

I tried once more. Walking over to the window to get as much satellite beaming down at me as possible, I called my friend whom I had met up with in the morning. She picked up, and informed me which floor everybody was on. While I do not remember if this was part of the buildings' design or just graffiti, the floors were conveniently numbered.

Finally, we were at the ground floor and I had brilliant idea. There were five windows and five people (two of the others had left prior to this). 

"Why not line up each person to a window so that we all get a really cool backlight silhouette shot?"

As we clambered our way up the windowsills, I noticed a small Parks Police vehicle passing by through my spot in the window, patrolling the area. There was no way that they had not noticed us.

"I saw a Parks Department car. Book it."

Everyone ran to a side close to the broken elevator shaft, put on our respirators as hastily as possible, and jumped in the tunnels, which our guide had informed us was out of their jurisdiction to enter. Right as we all made it to the safety of the asbestos filled atrocity known as the steam tunnels, we heard heavy footsteps overhead, scrambling to the spot where we were, undoubtedly rangers looking to do us in. Another close shave. 

We crawled through the tunnels for about half an hour before making our way to an exit: a torn-apart manhole that opened up into a grassy field. We spilled out of the side and collapsed, laughing at our near escape. After being inside, the view from the outer area gave us a newfound sense of appreciation for the design of the buildings. 

While we walk around, our guide tells us he slept out in these building when a hurricane was blowing in.

"I'm not exactly what you'd call the most sane person out there."
"I discerned that."

Shortly after, some drunk kids made their way to the roof and being throwing things off of it. Cans and umbrellas and wood bits that swirled in the wind currents as they descended. We took that as our cue to leave.

Everyone to the Kings Park station. Watching a deep scarlet glow of the sunset from the train. An exhausting day of physical activity and close calls. Time well spent. 

A national convergence for the sake of exploration. Back to our respective cities. Back to Seattle. Back to Philadelphia. Back to Long Island. Back to New York City. Home.





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