Uncovering the Past

Urban exploration has gained popularity in the past couple of years, but why?

There’s always an abandoned gas station or an amusement park frozen in time. Dusty shelves, dead plants, broken windows, and layers of soot cover the floors—a place left unoccupied by a family, a business, or a city. And they are just waiting to be rediscovered. Which is just what urban explores hope to do. 

They call it Urbex. It’s unsurprisingly a combination of the two words. They find these unique places, the stories left behind, and share their lore through videos, pictures, and writings. And it’s been growing in the Midwest primarily due to the thousands of buildings left abandoned, the culture silently eroded, and the history that lies forgotten in these buildings waiting to be uncovered. It doesn’t matter if the buildings were abandoned 100 years ago or just yesterday. Either way, they’re prime spots to dive deeper into the stories and history of urban places. 

Amanda Bennett-Cole is one of these urban explorers. She can blame the History Channel and her grandfather for the hobby. Growing up she only got about six TV channels. One was the History Channel (more on that in a second). She also spent time with her grandfather. He built houses for a living. Some of them would be left abandoned. Bennett-Cole’s grandfather would take her to explore these buildings to teach her about architecture. Combine that with a TV-fueled obsession with forgotten history, and it’s not a surprise Bennett-Cole found her way into Urbex. 

“I love the history behind everything because you get the weirdest stories,” Bennett-Cole says.

She really got into this hobby in 2005 when she got her driver’s license. Bennett-Cole and her best friend would drive around in search of abandoned places to explore and take pictures of.  

She mostly explores in Indiana, where she is based. One of the best cities to explore is Gary, Indiana. It used to be a city that thrived off steel manufacturing. However, since the decline in steel production, Gary now has over 13,000 abandoned buildings—plenty for urbex enthusiasts to explore. 

In another small town nearby, Bennett-Cole found an abandoned nursing home. As she describes it, the building is “blank” on the outside, with one hallway entrance that’s completely trashed. Wood and dirt engulfs the floor. Graffiti covers the walls as it has very obviously been a hangout spot for high school students. 

Once you look deeper inside, everything else is in pristine condition. The beds are still made, there are clothes in the dressers, photos on the wall, and surprisingly medical documentation of the patients that lived in the home.

Real-Life Scavenger Hunt

There’s a lot of secrecy amongst the Urbex community, and for good reason. Explorers want to prevent further damage to the buildings, such as graffiti, breakage, or theft, much like the nursing home’s hallway. 

But that means great locations are also kept from other explorers. It made finding new buildings a scavenger hunt. Folks do leave clues, though. They don’t detail specifics, but they’ll give out hints like a county or a road that may lead you to the location of the abandoned place. 

“In all honesty, I really like the challenge of finding new places. I’m part of several abandoned groups and the main thing is you don’t give out locations,” Bennett-Cole says. 

Uncovering the clues is just the start of the adventure. Once inside, there’s history to discover through the photographs, toys, furniture, and eventhe  layout of the buildings.

Urbex explorers will document and interact with the objects they find, but they won’t take them home. Bennett-Cole says it’s important to leave a place exactly how you found it for other explorers to find and enjoy the experience. 

How High is Too High? 

Another explorer, who only wants to be know by his Instagram handle @MidwestUrbexx, has a different perspective on these abandoned places. He has an affinity for climbing rooftops. Since he started his Instagram page, he’s met friends who taught him the ropes of rooftopping.

Because climbers can go 50 to even 1,000 feet in the air to scale these buildings, it gives a new vantage point from a city or town. However, with these rooftops, you do have to be careful because a slip could lead you to your death. So, @MidwestUrbexx suggests starting slowly, and practicing on smaller buildings. 

“It’s definitely something that I don’t want to say is life changing, but it will change your perspective a little bit,” he says. 

There are plenty of issues, though. Weather is a big one. You want to make sure you go out on a day with no rain and little wind or else you might have some close calls. You need to have some strength. You also ha ve to be comfortable with heights. But because many rooftoppers experience a rush of adrenaline when they summit, the risks are worth it. 

The Dangers of Urban Exploring

One of the biggest hazards @MidwestUrbexx has experienced is the most obvious: trespassing charges. @MidwestUrbexx has had more than a few run-ins with the police. It’s technically illegal to explore some of these places. They’re private property. Some still have owners.

If you’re not quiet, there’s potential for neighbors or workers to call the cops. While exploring an abandoned steel plant, @MidwestUrbexx ran into one of the employees who then threatened to call security to get them off the property. 

While these old places may seem run-down, property owners can still set up cameras to prevent people from exploring their buildings. If you’re caught on camera, some owners may press charges and call the police to remove you from their property. 

“I feel like, if people have the right intentions, like no vandalism and just taking pictures of stuff, I feel like they (owners) shouldn’t care as much for that,” @MidwestUrbexx says. 

In some cases, those cameras are there as a precaution. These places can be dangerous. Explorers often have specific gear to keep them safe. Of course, tennis shoes or good boots are essential in case there’s glass. Baby wipes keep hands and surfaces clean. Same goes for sanitizer. But many explorers also carry respirators to protect their lungs from asbestos or protective eyewear to shield them from falling debris. And, of course, flashlights are also a necessity. You might stumble upon a basement or a dark room and you’ll want to know where you’re going. Finally, black clothing is important if you want to stay out of sight. 

Despite these dangers, the Urbex community still has a passion for uncovering the mysteries of these buildings.Urbex is not for the faint of heart; it is a skill only few will master. But if you’re interested in getting started, look around your own town. There could be years of history just waiting to be uncovered. 

“Most of why I do this is because I love looking for what people have left behind,” Bennett-Cole says.


  • Nicole Cox

    I am truly grateful for the opportunity to be Multimedia Director for Urban Plains. I have a great deal of video experience, both professionally and just for fun. From documentaries, short films, sports broadcasting, and live shows, I have worked on over 500 videos throughout my career. When I’m not creating videos, you can find me…creating videos, I am a 24/7 workaholic and also produce content for my YouTube channel, Tik Tok, and other social platforms.

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