Dead Inside

Dead Inside - Preakness Healthcare Center 

Simply put - the exterior of the old Preakness Healthcare Center was quite beautiful. A columned entrance adorned in carved stonework, and crowned with a slightly depressed looking cupola. It exhibited a presence that really was quite impressive, even after having been left abandoned for several years. Unfortunately all turned out to be charade – its intriguing form was nothing more than a siren's song, heralded to entice photographers, urban explorers, and other curiosity seekers into its toxic maw.

Our first visit to this location did not start out unlike many of our other excursions. Things tend to be a bit trickier for us in the winter months, as it is with any activity that takes place in the outdoors. Luckily we had the assistance of a friend on this journey, by way of Vacant New Jersey. His familiarity with the grounds and building made our time there that much easier, and we were able to make our way inside without much of a hitch. We had been told the day prior that the location we were setting out to had come to suffer from pretty severe water damage. This is typical of most abandoned locations, especially those with big flat roofs such as the one on this building, so we assumed that we would simply have to watch our footing during our stay, and being as it was below freezing the night prior, to keep an eye out for ice patches.

As soon as we got through the door and stepped into the chambers of gurgling putrid hell which were once hallways, it was painfully apparent that we had underestimated the scope of the “water damage”. This was not an old hospital, this was a primordial stew awash with old wheelchairs and hospital beds. Finding the lone dry(ish) area in the immediate length of hallway, we set to unpacking our gear and assembling our equipment. It was then that our hearts sunk, as we came to discover that we had failed to pack the media cards for the video equipment. All of them. In fact they were left an entire state away, and the closest store which would carry what we needed may as well been there too. After having spent just five minutes in this hallway though, we had come to envy those far away memory cards.

In an attempt to make the most of the situation we decided to document the location through photography on the current trip, and to return in the near-future to focus on filming the video. The thought of a return trip did not sit well, as the place only became more damp, pungent, and dark the further we ventured into it's decayed anatomy. This was not one of those abandoned locations that people hope to one day revisit, or even think a photo of which would look good framed on the wall above the mantel. This is the kind of place that wakes you up at 3am in a cold sweat, or calls you late at night and breaths heavily into the phone until you get freaked out and hang up.

By the blessing of some higher power we lived through our trip though, and upon exiting all we wished for was to bask in the sunlight and fresh air. The hike back to the Jeep was a pleasure, though on any other day we may have been complaining about the cold or the steep inclines, on this day any activity taking place outside those walls were a gift. A heaviness hung in our chests for a few days after our trip -A real, physical, discomfort that very slowly went away. We chalked this up to being shut in with untold species of mold and mildew for several hours. Between wheezes we vowed that when we returned it would be with proper respirators.

The inevitable day finally came, and we once again found ourselves on our way to the old hospital. This time we were being dropped off on the property by a good friend, thus eliminating a lot of hiking, and making the trip a little less painful. We knew what to expect this time, and we were prepared. We even brought along those respirators we swore to never travel without ever again... or at least we would have, had we not forgotten them back in the Jeep that was now some several township lines away. Due to censorship reasons I will not transcribe exactly what was said when we realized this fact. Suffice to say we were upset... but we were able to eventually put that aside and got to work.

Stepping inside the gigantic cesspool of a building our expectations were once again slapped across the face. Somehow we completely failed to recall that there was a considerable storm of rain and slush the day prior. Yes, the place was gross and soupy on our first visit, but what was once a bog of decayed ceiling tiles and exotic fungus had now become a stagnant wading pool - The floor of the lower level holding some 2-3 inches of water across nearly the entirety of the building. The levels above were not much better. Nearly every surface has a wet paper mâché feel to it, and the floors were akin to oatmeal, if oatmeal were dark green and toxic. At one point while simply crossing a bedroom floor, Christina's boot became horribly ensnared by this toxic green muck. It was actually so sticky that it pulled the boot completely off of her foot as she struggled to free herself. The stalk of slime proudly held the boot aloft, like a trophy. Eventually we wrangled the boot back from its clutches with a collection of mop handles, but the boot was never the same. One of the more disturbing features of the buildings was that the walls had grown boils. Which, when popped, oozed a thick brown sap-like substance. In some rooms a strange kind of dark fungal(?) buildup was individually lifting the laminate flooring tiles into the air, some protruding over half a foot upward upon black glutinous stalks. As we walked, occasionally portions of the remaining drop-ceiling saw fit to finally let go from their mounts, falling to the floor with a soggy cartoon-like “splat” that would echo down the dank corridors. Adding further to the already incredible atmosphere was the waft of what we can only assume was the odor of backing-up septic lines. Traversing the hallways that day was essentially like exploring a giant colon. Of a long dead animal. In the summer sun.

Again, we somehow survived the whole horrendous ordeal, collected our footage, and were able to finally escape. However, unlike the first trip, we did not come away unscathed. While hanging out in one of the many dark slimy corners that compose this building, waiting for a shot to finish recording, one of us experienced a rather bad nosebleed, Something we knew to be a red-flag for black mold exposure. More importantly though, one of us inadvertently rubbed their eye while composing a shot. This was a totally subconscious action, and one often done while focusing via the cameras viewfinder. Within a few days the eye in question became sore, with an inflamed eyelid. Not being too big a fan of doctor visits, we postponed visiting one for a month or so. When the time eventually did arrive to see a professional, his prognosis was that the ailment was an infection of sorts caused by some foreign matter being trapped within the eyelid. He instructed us to seek treatment in the form of medication, and if that didn't work he suggested we schedule an appointment to have the the eye operated on. Not being keen on either option, we decided to let the injured eye self-medicate, while keeping note of the healing process in case any issues may arise.

After several months the infection did indeed go away, but it was a slow and painful process, with the unpleasant sideeffect of sometimes waking up with dried blood upon one's face and pillow. Additionally, after the initial infection cleared up, post-traumatic tissue remained upon the lower eyelid which often caused vision to fuzz over. This proved a real hindrance when using a camera, or just dealing with daily life for that matter. It too eventually went away on its own, but all-told the eye injury lasted roughly 8 months.

On a short serious note – Though the tone of this writing may have been a lighthearted, mold spores present a very real and serious danger to people, even the most healthy of us. In some instances they can even be fatal. Honestly, we are very lucky to have walked away from such a place as well off as we did.


Idealistic murals decorated several security doors.

The peeled paint bore an unsettling resemblance to dead flesh.

The salon in less moldy times...