Monday, December 11, 2006

Jeepers Creepers

In a recent conversation about his upcoming Captain America miniseries for Marvel, David Morrell (you know, the First Blood guy... the one who gave us Rambo) spoke briefly about his new novel Creepers. I had paid no attention to it, dismissing it as a horror novel, but it turns out that the sort of Creepers he's talking about are absolutely fascinating to me—and in fact, I've been one briefly, although I didn't know it at the time.

Creepers (also known as "infiltrators" or "urban explorers") are people who gain access to old buildings that have been closed to the public for years. In many cases, these old buildings still have the original furnishings and decor, although the state of disrepair can be pretty severe. The book deals with some creepers who enter a long-sealed hotel and discover that it still has some secrets inside its walls...

Years ago, when I was in Rome, GA, I was a creeper. Rome is a fascinating town; the current street level on Broad Street is actually one story higher than the original street level. Rome was basically built up one story to get much of the downtown area above flood level. As it turns out, though, many of the current buildings on Broad Street predate the elevation of the street level, which means that they have a basement that as once the ground floor of the building.

I had a chance to gain access to a basement that was once, from what I was told, an opera house. The furnishings were somewhat sparse now, having been pilfered and recycled over the years, but it was obvious that there were some once-elegant theatrical style seats, a lot of woodwork in what must have been the lobby, some ornate ceiling work... all deteriorated, of course. Seeing all this in its then-current condition led me to speculate about how it must have looked in its prime; I found it to be wonderfully evocative, almost a mystical experience.

One other time, when I was a senior in high school, some friends and I attended a school function at the largely-closed off Forrest Hotel on Broad Street. Here, it was the upstairs that was sealed off, not the downstairs. We weren't even aware that we were going into an area where we shouldn't be as we accessed the closed hallways and saw hotel rooms with doors standing open... doors to empty rooms in some cases, but in other cases the rooms beyond those doors had some outdated furnishings that harkened back to the 1940s or 1950s, when the hotel was still a thriving enterprise. Even then, I was fascinated by the idea that this had once been a center of life and activity, and that people lived and worked here and probably assumed it would always be such, taking for granted the surroundings that would eventually be abandoned.

When I see old, decrepit houses, I have to wonder what they were like when they were new, when someone proudly planned a life around their home, when the building was as full of promise as the lives of those who dwelled within its walls. The allure of old buildings complete with their furnishings is almost irresistible to me.

I have been a creeper unknowing--but given the opportunity, I would love to be a creeper once again, touching the resonance of lives that have left those surroundings behind. It's a wonderful, wistful, and sometimes sad experience, but one that I find positively compelling. It makes me wish that I lived in a city with many such sites waiting to be explored...

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