I am married, have an 11-year old son in 6th grade, and live in lower Westchester County, NY. I own a small business, Smooth Running Service Company Inc. that sells and repairs fitness equipment in the tri-state area. I do not advertise at all and much prefer word of mouth referrals and personal relationships in the course of doing business. Using photography as an excuse, I continuously attempt to satisfy a long-time fascination with ruins, western ghost towns and similarly abandoned places.
Over many years beginning in the early 1990s, I planned and lead hikes and tours that often featured ruins of some kind for several different organizations that included the 92 St. Y, Camp Eagle Hill (Elizaville, NY) and Outdoor Singles (Queens, NY). I also worked part-time as a photographer and photo-feature writer for the Queens Courier, a weekly newspaper, for about 10 years.
In time it occurred to me I was not aware of any books featuring eastern ghost towns (or similar sites). I began the project in 2003 and “Hiking the Road to Ruins” was published by Rutgers University Press in 2007, focusing on historic remains in the Hudson Valley and beyond. It became an instant best-selling-for-university-press phenomenon and made me somewhat well known in what’s kindly referred to as a “niche market”. Although debatable rewards came about financially (still need the day job, alas), I’ve met many interesting people and accomplished urban explorers as a result of publication and also acquired a quirky sort of respectability as a result.
Miner Bob found my book and sent me my first fan email, inviting me along on a trip. Up until that point I hadn’t even considered going underground: my background besides hiking is typically in urban exploration. Mostly active in the mid-‘80s to ‘90s, a small rotating assembly of friends and I formed the IMF Photo Team (Mission: Impossible reference) of which I was the usual planner and head instigator, although it was always a group effort. We specialized in high-concept investigations focusing on quality over quantity, our most memorable missions being accessing the towers in Flushing Meadows Park, infiltrating the then recently shuttered Willowbrook State School, and looking for an interdimensional monster reportedly trapped inside an old Air Force base located in Camp Hero State Park on Long Island. This was all good exciting fun and frequent adrenaline highs as we explored while dodging cops, and no one ever got hurt and no damage was ever done. We went from being a bunch of nutty enthusiasts to organizing into a fairly competent, well thought out group of urban adventurers. Getting older and forming families eventually put the IMF on “inactive” status because trouble with the law is unseemly, but the curiosity still remains.
This all leads towards my seeking out ruins and my eventual plan to write it all down to share my knowledge of sites and adventures in exploration. There isn’t much to not “get” regarding hiking to standing ruins, defunct military bases and crumbling mansions deep in the woods, but descending into abandoned mines through holes that aren’t much bigger around than I am opens up a host of questions that I hadn’t considered until meeting the boys at ABM. During the research and writing phases of my book, often with my old IMF friends in tow, it simply never occurred to me to enter some of the mines we came across! That’s just crazy.
So why do I go along? I am in awe of these guys and their ability to find the mines, as well as their lack of inhibition slipping down those dark holes into the unknown. We are all about the same age and safety is always a consideration. To be sure the camaraderie of the group is very satisfying and the places we visit are quite unbelievable. I never get tired of that crazy buzz you get during an adventure: moving fast, sure and quiet as you gain access and the satisfaction upon entry, but there are aspects about it that I wrestle with. Make no mistake; danger is always present in various forms. It appears I’m back were I started, sneaking around and finding cool places to visit with interesting history. Maybe I’m not as grown up as I thought I was…