What happens in Monticello…

Posted on August 1, 2010 at 9:37 pm
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… stays in Monticello, but I can tell you anyway. I enjoy exploring abandoned buildings, sharing those time capsules with people, but every now and then we get kicked out rather unceremoniously. This was such a time in the small town of Monticello, NY, where I was chased down a few blocks after pushing my luck a little too far. Don’t get me wrong, it has happened before and will happen again. It’s not completely undeserved, if you know what I mean. A lot of old buildings are off-limits for people’s own safety but I wish photographers weren’t considered like common thieves either. Take nothing but pictures, leave nothing but footprints. I hope we can do it in a legit way one day, but I can live with a little risk for now, a minor scare we can all joke about an hour later. This post is the short story of our no-sot-gracious exit.

I woke up at 6AM (!) on a perfectly fine Saturday to join my photographer friend Darren on an ambitious road trip to hit 3 abandoned locations in the Borscht Belt, about 2 hours south of Albany. We met Ross down there, a fellow urban explorer familiar with the area. My favorite guide Darren had talked to Ross earlier on Flickr but we had never met the guy before. People approach urban exploration differently: I try to be responsible, reliable, and respectful of the places I visit. To be honest it’s the kind of company I like to keep too. Ross proved to be a very solid and knowledgeable companion, I hope we can join him on new adventures in the future.

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We started with a vacation resort called The Pines, an abandoned summer retreat I’ll talk about soon (I’m lagging behind). We headed our way to Monticello, NY a couple of hours later. The plan was to visit an old nursing home affectionately named the “Monticello Manor”. This three-story building used to be a hospital until it closed in the 60′s. The adult home was then closed by the Department of Health in 2008 after years of violations and a bad case of bedbugs. I didn’t know about the place but Darren had kept an eye on it since its closure, hoping for a storage room of cool outdated equipment and maybe a morgue.

Since the two photos above are pretty much the only things I’ve to share in this post, I figured I’ll create this masterpiece of an annotated map below. I usually keep the exact location and way in a bit more concealed, but I decided to share our Modus Operandi in more details for once. A few people have asked me in the past if they could join our little group, hopefully they can decide after reading this if it’s really worth it. Click on the photo to view large.

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    1. We parked at a gas station in the middle of the town, at a respectful distance from the manor perched on a hill. We waited for a few cars to leave, then ran for cover in the woods at the bottom of the incline. Sneaky.
    2. We reached the top of the hill and stopped right there. Somebody was pretty busy sifting through a pile of rubble in front of the manor. Since he was going to be instrumental in our demise, let’s call him “El Dudo”.
    3. After playing Sam Fisher there for a few minutes behind the bushes, we decided to sneak in an annex next to the manor. It was wide open, but completely dark. This is where I shot the photo of the fridge above, by shining a powerful Maglite to the ceiling and bounce some light. Unfortunately, El Dudo, oblivious to our move, started to walk towards the annex. Retreat!
    4. At this point it became clear that our man was going back and forth between the pile of trash in front of the building, and his car (annotated as 1 and 2 on the map). Or maybe he was just messing with our heads. Was he scavenging from the manor, or dumping something from his car? We decided not to confront him and moved to the other side of the hill to carry on with our own illegal business.
    5. We ran across a small road to more woods east of the manor, next to those two big silos on the map. We quietly made our way to the back of the building while I wrote a mental note about the benefits of a good camouflage, or lack thereof.
    6. Time to get inside the manor. After trying a few doors, we noticed a window wide open on the first floor. We accepted the invitation. Should you accept it? No you shouldn’t. Joke aside, please don’t do anything reckless, like breaking a window.

That’s about it for the insertion. We started exploring the first floor but the place was pretty empty. There was a good chance the interiors would be retro and outdated, but unfortunately most of its contents had been piled and trashed in the parking lot. A bit too contemporary for my taste. I let Darren and Ross setup their tripods and headed for the second level. From time to time I would peek outside to check for El Dudo, then proceed quietly to a different room. I finally reached the third floor. I looked outside: no one. Ooops. A few minutes later I heard somebody on the first floor yelling in Spanish. Somebody really unhappy. I couldn’t understand a word but this wasn’t good. In a building that small I wasn’t going to find a place to hide should Monticello’s finest swing by. I started to look for both an exit route and an excuse.

El Dudo, who was most likely working on site, had indeed found Darren and Ross. As I gathered later on, he was pissed, vehemently asking who we were working for. I guess the kind of construction workers who carry huge cameras? He seemed pretty close to call “la policía” so my buddies opted to exit the building using a patented jump-through-an-open-window maneuver. Darren called me, confirming the interruption, and I hurried up downstairs. I passed our Spanish friend as he was talking on the phone to either the police or his employer, and took a chance going straight for the front door. It was unlocked, I was finally out. At this point I tried to defuse the situation and talk to the guy for a bit. I apologized, showed him my camera. I told him we were interested in documenting abandoned buildings before they disappear. Maybe it was my accent, a good old Spanish vs. French misunderstanding, but he didn’t want to hear any of it.

  • I started to walk at a brisk pace down the road to put some distance. He was definitely following me, asking for my number, yelling at me to wait for the police. I don’t give my number on the first date and I wasn’t really looking forward a ticket, so I turned around one last time to apologize for our intrusion. I tried to clarify we were only here for the photos then I walked away. As in, quickly.
  • As I closed in on the intersection, my stomach churned. A police car was driving past the hill, about 50 feet in front of us (that ? point on the map). I heard my guy 20 feet behind me screaming at the cops to stop me and I realized I was in a pickle. Luckily, the cops didn’t look at the show up the road and drove by. I ran through the intersection, with El Dudo in tow.
  • Here I was, still running in the middle of the town, trying to lose that guy. I don’t think dashing through a neighborhood with a backpack and a huge, black Maglite in hand sends the right message, and I seriously considered ditching it. As I turned around the corner, I looked back and realized he had given up. Relief.
  • I kept going and found refuge in a liquor store. I was sweating like a piglet but tried to look natural while asking for “a good bottle of French wine please?”. I texted Darren the following: “I’m at 33 Pleasant Street, Monticello liquor. You need to get out of town quick”. Darren and Ross, who had found their way back to the gas station, picked me up a few minutes later. We got out of town quick.

The two other places we visited that day were really interesting, full of beautiful moments. I’ll share some photos soon. You win some, you lose some. We weren’t expecting anybody in the Manor but this can happen. We obviously startled this guy. Was he bluffing, I don’t know. Was he really working there that day, I’m not even sure. When confronted though, I would suggest you get out of the premises first and do some talking. I told him what it was all about but he was really pissed off. I was wearing out my welcome at this point, time to run. I don’t blame him in retrospect but I feel he wouldn’t have let us get in in the first place anyway. We took a chance, no harm done and a good memory.

More photos

Just because I wasn’t really inspired by the place doesn’t mean you can’t have a glimpse. Darren has some pretty colorful photos on Flickr:

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And so does my friend Ross, who was experimenting with a DSLR for the first time:

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Urban Explorations in Print

“The Unnoticed” — A Collection in Print

Are you looking for more? I have assembled a hundred photos from 10 abandoned locations in my first photo book, “The Unnoticed”, available online and at different branches of the Albany Public Library. Find more about this 136-page volume, available in hard cover, soft cover, and eBook format for iPad/iPhone, in the book section.

More abandoned buildings are listed under the “Urban Exploration” category.

Tags: abandoned buildings


  1. Jeff says:

    This was a pretty entertaining post. Someone should make a video game: “Urban Explorer!”, “El Dudo” could be the level 1 boss

  2. Sebastien says:

    Hehe, thanks. Now we need a princess, and a castle.

  3. MattW says:

    Early Friday morning will mark the peak of the annual Perseid Meteor shower.
    Brian Emfinger, who has an amazing gallery of meteor shots here. His camera settings for the photo were set at 10 mm, f/4, ISO 3200 for 30 seconds.
    Going to shoot any yourself?

  4. Sebastien says:

    Unfortunately, no. I’ll try at some point for sure.

  5. . says:

    No wonder you got caught. Never give away the location of an explored place.

  6. Sebastien says:

    Of course. In case the guy reads this post, builds a time-machine, and gets back to the exact day we paid him a visit. Now I know there is a crazy number of picture in this post (3!), but one of them is a map and as I mentioned in the post, the place is in the middle of town, visible from everywhere.

  7. charles wyche says:

    I used to work there from march 2008 to june 04 2008 when the state shut it down. I was very pleased when the state did step in and shut it down because no human or animal deserves to live like that. The worst part about it was when I got bit by several bed bugs. More pictures should be put up to show people what kind of place this was.

  8. Diane says:

    I was born@ the Monticello Hospital now known as Monticello Manor. .I also worked in the hospital kitchen when I was a teen.I remember that dishwasher along the back wall. How bad a shape was it on the inside?

  9. Sebastien says:

    @Diane: thanks for stopping by. The inside was not in a bad shape actually, compared to a lot of places I had seen. Structurally sound I’d say.

  10. Gabriel says:

    Going to be droning the “manor” soon.

  11. Chris says:

    hey! this place is even creeper and awesome for photos at night time. Went to school up near there and the few times we went in we never got spoken to by police. They did come up the hill with lights on after we had been flashing lights around, guess he didn’t care enough to come check it out!

  12. Will says:

    Great story! Would love to get in contact and shoot sometime.