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Richmond, VA Abandoned School
After confirming the entrance with some satellite photography and a few more
topographical maps, Billy (a non-goon friend) and I set out to find this tunnel
in person. As we drove around a rather shady part of Richmond, VA, we found a
dead-end road, and I felt fairly confident that the creek was west of us a half
mile or so. At this road, we noticed a boarded-up school between the possible
tunnel entrance and us. A dog howled as soon as we headed toward the school,
seemingly alerting the neighborhood to our presence. We took a quick look around
the school and found every window and door boarded-up. There were basketball
hoops and swing set skeletons outside, which, along with its size, led us to
believe that it was an elementary school. The screws and bolts holding the
boards to the school all looked very fresh, so we estimated the closing date at
five years ago (2000).
Past the school, we ventured down a steep and overgrown hill about a quarter of a mile until we saw a warehouse straight ahead and decided that we were too far south of the tunnel entrance. I should mention that we heard some noises around us in these woods the entire time. I would have guessed a normal forest creature except that the noises followed us. They never got too close, but I definitely felt watched. We walked back up to the school, headed to the north end of the school's property, and continued west, back down the hill. This time, we found the creek and followed it to our tunnel. The truth is that this story is not about that tunnel. Here are a few pictures of the entrance and tunnel anyway. At a later date, I explored about a mile of the tunnel with three friends, one goon. The goon fell in the sewage; we laughed. I should mention here that we found the probable source of our rustling in the woods. As four of us passed the school on our way to the tunnel, we saw four dogs in the school's old parking lot. They ranged from bulldog size to some kind of black dog, bigger than a German Sheppard. They did not seem too intimidated by our passing, as two of them continued to have sex the whole time we were in sight.
Here are a few pictures of that tunnel (unfortunately without any action footage of our very own ninja turtle.)
This may look menacing, but the huge metal door visible on the left side is unlocked. Two of us were able to lift the 200+ pound monster open. Even without the door, you can easily walk through the bars on the far right side. This grate is to keep trees and such out, not people.
At this point, we decided venturing any further into the tunnel without special equipment might be a bad idea.
The tunnel looks like this for the first quarter mile or so.
Here is a manhole. You can see remnants of a ladder on the right side, especially near the top. Eighty years of flood waters have long since washed most of the rungs away.
As I said, this thread is not about the tunnel. We were still curious about the school. A week later, Billy and I headed back to try to gain entry. Over the course of four hours, we unboarded four doors and one window. The first door, one to the boiler room, was dead bolted with a key hole on both sides. Though our amateur to nonexistent lock picking skill failed to grant us entry, we could see through its window. We saw a soda bottle, jeans draped over a boiler, and a shoe. At any other location, we'd figure homeless occupation, but this place was locked up tight. (As you can imagine, exploration in an urban area often results in homeless encounters. If there is interest, I can type up the discovery of the man we dubbed the Hobo King.)
As we began reboarding the window and contemplated the articles inside, we heard a rustle to our left. (Note: For those of you skeptical of urban exploration, we do everything possible to preserve the target, including putting 100% of the bolts back in the boards. Our only exception at this location came when we needed to make a hasty exit on a later trip.) Billy and I both turned to see a white dog, bulldog if I remember correctly, possibly pit bull, staring at us about 15 feet away. He had crept around the corner of the building to observe us. In my friendliest doggy voice, I said, "Hey, boy, how's it going?" He returned around the corner. Well, at least he seemed scared of us and not rabid. He also appeared to have a collar. I walked around the corner, dragging my feet loudly so as not to surprise the pack of dogs I expected to find. Sure enough, two of the other dogs, including the huge black dog, were some fifty feet away. They ran off as soon as I rounded the corner.
For the remainder of the evening, Billy and I heard those dogs just out of sight in the woods every so often. Though we most definitely knew exactly what was in those woods, the fact that something was there that we could not see, watching us, made us quite uneasy.
Our second board revealed another door with a deadbolt. The good news was that the bolt was not thrown. Ten minutes of persuading the door with some screwdrivers gained us entry... to a janitor closet -- a five foot by five foot room with shelves and a bucket. We shut the door and boarded it back up.
Our next door had a deadbolt-type lock with nothing but a piece of metal bolted to the door that allows you to pull it. Billy assured me that these were the same type of door that his old high school had -- the kind with a pushbar on the inside. We had no prayer of opening these things from the outside.
One more board revealed one more janitor closet. This time the original door was removed, and we were getting quite efficient at board removal, so it took us maybe ten minutes to investigate.
Our last board revealed a more promising sight. This door was also dead bolted, but we could see what appeared to be the school's gymnasium through the window, complete with ceiling-mounted basketball hoop. It had an organ in it for some reason.
This trip left me with nothing but more questions. We had noticed two things that threw me off. First a subtle observation that the exterior water fountains were all very high. This could not have been an elementary school. They even looked a bit high for middle school, but this place was way too small to be a Richmond high school. Remember, it also had swing sets. Swing sets are iffy even at a middle school, much less a high school. Second, we found a few strands of barbed wire hanging from the school wall in one place and remains of fences that were cemented into the ground and later cut down. Seeing this torn up made me push my guess of a closing date back to 10 years or so. It still didn't make sense. Barbed wire at a school? This may have been a bad part of town, but it didn't seem to have been closed long enough for barbed wire to have been put up and then taken back down, leaving only two feet of dangling, unrusted wire as evidence.
After one more brief scouting trip, we got our full group together of Billy, Grant, Matt, Trevor, and myself (all non-goons). We were fully equipped for an attempted roof entry. I wasn't expecting to find too much on the roof, but we sure weren't getting in on the ground without an experienced lock picker. Billy, Matt, and I climbed on top of a patio overhang in the back of the school, probably ten feet up. We left Grant and Trevor on the ground, promising to let them in through one of the push-bar doors if we gained entry.
After climbing up another three feet or so onto the main part of the roof, we found that the roof had partially collapsed, leaving a hole about six inches in diameter. The roof was in bad enough shape that we managed to expand the hole to about two feet by two and a half feet. We wrapped our rope around a secure pipe on the ceiling and dropped it down into the school. I began my descent into the hole when I heard loud rustling and a man's voice. I panicked, ripping my jacket on the way back out. After a thorough inspection of the room below with flashlights, we found an old mattress and sheets, but no signs of life. I then learned that the rustling had been debris falling from the roof, and the voice had been Trevor, saying through a window on the ground, "Watch the first step. It's a doozy!" Fuck you, Trevor.
We all eventually made it down into the school, Matt leaving my flashlight on the roof in the process.
Here's our entrance.
Our first look at the inside
We then found the kitchen
School room? If this room is the school, what's the rest?
At least we now had a date. Looks like I was off by about a year.
We found similar dating outside of the cafeteria.
The next room was a gym, though it was not the same gym that we had seen from the outside. (This picture is looking backward, toward our entry.)
A look into the next room revealed that it was the gym we had seen from outside, complete with organ.
Ah, it was a gender-segregated school. That explains the twin gyms.
It should be noted that we found a single crutch. This is the second abandoned building in which we have found a single crutch.
Here are some more pictures of the gym area. The doors to this office, as all the other doors in this place, were locked.
The delivery door
The floor was made of these lovely tiles that loudly crack and break under your feet.
We began to realize what this place was as we found our first cell.
Hallways full of cells. As if there was any doubt, the doors had locks on the outside only.
At this point a thought occurred to us. By trying to find a way to let Grant and Trevor in, we were effectively trying to break out of a prison. Every door was locked from both sides with a key. Every window was locked with a key and boarded, and the screen was locked with another key.
We found the offices in the front.
Lockers where the inmates' possessions were kept.
The boys' storage room.
We found a room completely full of records, but did not have time to photograph them all. Grant and Trevor will still waiting outside for their entrance.
We did have a chance to confirm where we were. Welcome to juvie.
The cafeterias, as everything else, were segregated. Here's the girls' serving window...
... and the boys'.
As we took this picture of the giant fridge...
... Trevor called Billy's phone. "Billy, there's someone walking around the back of the school. We'll call you back when we know more. *click*"
Honestly, we've been pinned enough that this wouldn't bother me if we had a way out. Our access was a hole in the roof. We were in a prison.
Matt, Billy, and I shut off all of our lights for good and sat in the complete darkness. As much as it is a cliche, I could not see my hand in front of my face. I also could not see Billy's maglight hit my face as I threatened to whisper ghost stories. We sat for a good thirty minutes with no word from the outside.
Meanwhile, Grant and Trevor were finally seeing some action. They had seen a shadow approaching the school and ducked around a corner. A male around six feet tall, wearing all black, strolled into the school's backyard. At least it wasn't a cop. They circled around the school to come up behind him. They did in fact come up behind him as they rounded the fourth corner. Unfortunately, he was ten feet in front of them and saw them. They bolted back around the school. After fifteen minutes of not seeing the man, they called us and alerted us to nothing more than they had seen someone walking around, and now he was gone.
We quickly proceeded to the records room to get some shots before we evacuated. Here are some random pictures from the piles of record books.
Notice the last question.
This looks to say, "From this point, Moody will only get two blankets to sleep with. No sheets no pillow case no spread. And make sure that we keep up with is roommate. Thank you."
They even recorded 13 minute breaks from school.
Apparently the inmates had money that they could use for snacks.
After the records room, as we were leaving, I noticed this door and commented, "Oh, gee, thanks. Hey, guys, apparently this is the 'room.'"
At which point Matt nudged me and pointed at the other door.
On the way out, we visited the boiler room and the jeans Billy and I had spotted through the window on our first visit.
It was quite a struggle to get all of us out through the hole in the roof, but we did it. Billy and I lifted Matt through, Matt pulled me up as Billy helped lift me, and Matt and I dragged Billy out last.
As we began to climb to the patio overhang, we spotted a cop. We were in plain sight on the roof, and he turned toward the school. Matt jumped down the twelve feet from the roof with no aid, falling over. Billy and I threw the rope around a pipe and half climbed, half fell down to the ground. Materials were thrown into backpacks as we ran off toward the woods behind the school.
Luckily, I knew the woods from my several trips to and from the creek tunnel. We ran down to the tunnel entrance, and Billy and I left our suspicious gear with the others. We casually walked the four blocks around to Billy's car. The cop was nowhere to be seen, though we did get freaked out by a passerby who stopped his car.
"Hey, guys. You want a ride?"
"Nah, we're OK."
"... You know where you are?"
"... and you're going on foot?"
".... umm.. OK. Have a good night."
The kindness of strangers in Richmond sometimes surprises me.
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