Minneapolis / Saint Paul / Twin Cities urban exploration
   December 2002

Action Squad first heard about the Ripley Memorial Hospital in the winter of 2001/2002, when founding member MuppySkum discovered it during the course of her occupation at the time.

She reported that it appeared to be an abandoned hospital. She'd explored a small outbuilding and found a bunch or weird stuff in it, including really old black and white photos.

We added it to the Action Squad to-do list, but then somehow forgot all about it. I seem to recall that we thought it would be too hard to get into and probably alarmed, although I don't recall what these notions were based on. I also remember not being able to find the damn place.

Fast forward a year.

I was a member of an online bulletin board, on which a thread was dedicated to discussion of Action Squad. One day, MinneapolisRay, a member of the board, posted a "hot tip," telling us about the hospital, its condition, and its location. He said it was boarded up tightly, and that it was slated for reuse sometime late next year.

Agent Wop immediately expressed a keen interest in exploring the site. However, when the night came 'round to explore, he had other plans, and so it was just Foxilla and me that wound up heading out for a scouting trip. Our goals: to find the building, to evaluate security, potential access, and potential interest.

Trip Log #1: Max Action & Foxilla Scout it Out

Wednesday December 18, 2002

Foxilla and I found our way to the site without much trouble and parked the car. It was about 10 PM, and around 30 degrees as we nonchalantly strolled toward the institution. The neighborhood was residential and seemed a tad bit unfriendly. Fortunately, we did not notice anyone noticing us. First impressions were that the building still had power (a single sodium light blazed on the side), it was an interesting mix architecturally of boxy institutional and Victorian residential, and it was boarded up as tight as a virgin mosquito.

All the ground floor windows and door were covered in sheets of sturdy plywood, painted a nice shade of maroon to match the bricks and secured with screws that require a special tool to remove. Any windows that opened up onto a rooftop or fire escape were also boarded up. The one door that was not boarded shut was secured with a padlock and a serious deadbolt key lock. Even the little tool shed on the property was boarded up tightly.

This was going to be tricky.

We made our rounds of the site's perimeter, making note of the few weak possibilities we saw. When we were poking around in the back, I noticed a high-pitched beeping that seemed to be coming from inside. It sounded like the alarm that Joe Rebel had set off many years ago when Action Squad had been climbing a building adjacent to a grain elevator and he'd accidentally put his engineer boot through a pane of glass. Had we triggered some sort of alarm just by lurking about outside? Hrrm.

We upped our level of watchfulness and continued our search for an entrance. I was almost completely convinced that it was going to come down to deciding between surrender or breaking boards off (which I'm opposed to for many reasons) as we approached the final unchecked corner of the site, which was the furnace room/building. The windows here were mostly barred as well as boarded. Fuck.

Then, suddenly, inspiration struck. I noticed an elevated chute connecting the towering smokestack to the furnace outbuilding. Briefly, I entertained thoughts of climbing the rungs to the top of the 100-foot or so tower, then somehow descending internally. Then I saw the hatch at the base of the stack; an iron door about 3 feet high. It did not look locked in any way. I tugged at it. It didn't move. I got a better grip and yanked and the hatch swung open.

I clicked my flashlight on and peeked in: the chute into the building looked accessible. "Hey I think we're in," I hissed toward her, and she joined me in two shakes of a Fox's tail.

We pulled the iron hatch shut behind us and took a moment to get acquainted with the space. Above us, a grey circle of light glowed downward from the top of the smokestack, far above. Everything was blackened with soot, and the slightest movement raised clouds of dust that made breathing into an unpleasant experience. The chute was a few feet across and maybe five feet up from the ground; by standing on some logs that littered the floor, it would be easy enough to boost up into it.

So I did.

Crawling through the vent raised up a storm of coal dust, which clogged my nose, eyes, and taste-buds. About halfway to the furnace, there were two slats across the vent that required some contortion and dust-eating to get past, so I contorted and I ate dust. And then I was in the furnace. There were two chutes down into the furnace itself, but it did not look like there was anyway to get into the building that way. This left a circular opening at the end of the vent. There had apparently once been a hinged metal flap that regulated airflow into this opening, but maintenance had removed it and set it to the side at some point.

The circular portal opened up into a furnace room, maybe 10 feet or so up off the floor. There were no signs of motion detectors or other alarms, and it looked like getting down would not be too much of a problem, especially if we brought some rope. The new owners had truly done one hell of an excellent job trespass-proofing the hospital. How the hell could they have possibly suspected that people would come along that were both willing and able to enter the chimney, crawl through a coal-dust choked vent into the furnace, and rappel down into the sublevels of the place?

(Note: Access is no longer possible, which is the only reason I'm sharing how we got in here.)

Anyway, having established that this was indeed an entry point, I turned around and crawled back out to the chimney where Foxilla waited, and told her the good news. I had not come dressed to crawl through a coal chute and a furnace, and my blue jeans were an oily black, as were my hands, face, all other surface area features as well as some internal ones, such as my sinuses and my boogers.

We decided to return with appropriate clothing and dust-filter masks as soon as we could. The alarm noise was still going off, but there was no sign of any response. We drove around the neighborhood for awhile to see if anyone would ever show up to check it out, but no one did.

So we went home I kicked her butt at Boggle a whole bunch. OK, so maybe it was actually pretty even. But only because she cheated.

Later, we spent some time digging up some historical info on the buildings. Which makes now a good time for a historical interlude, yes?

ONWARD TO PART 2: Half-Assed History Lesson