Modern Explorers Seek Out Abandoned, Forgotten Sites
Thursday, July 25, 2002
ThisWeek Staff Writer
After deciding that geology didn’t exactly rock his world, Jason Robinson left college to figure out what he wanted to do with his life.
He drifted into loss prevention, kind of likes the work and is considering going back to school to pursue a career in law enforcement.
“Which is pretty funny, considering the things I do,” Robinson said.
What does he do?
Jason Robinson trespasses, on a recreational basis, and with the very best of intentions.
Robinson, a lifelong resident of the South Side, is an “urban explorer,” and founder of what he hopes one day will be a nonprofit organization, the Ohio Exploration Society; so far he has yet to get organized enough to fill out the necessary paperwork to achieve nonprofit status.
Robinson defines urban exploration as people who go to historic or abandoned places, in spite of, and sometimes especially because of, prohibitions against such visits.
“You just peruse around, see what you can see, find what you can find,” Robinson said.
In other words: trespassing.
“That’s what it is,” Robinson acknowledged.
But well-intentioned trespassing.
“We have a rule: Don’t take anything but pictures,” Robinson said. “If someone comes up and tells us, ‘This is private property,’ we’ll leave. We don’t put up a fight or anything.”
Robinson reported some close encounters of the cop kind while out exploring, but none have resulted in arrest.
“It was never close,” he said.
Law enforcement officers seem pretty understanding when the mission of urban explorers is explained to them.
“One even told us another place to check out,” Robinson said.
Explorers of the past — da Gamma, Balboa, Ponce de Leon, Magellan, and of course, Columbus — sought the unknown.
Urban explorers seek the forgotten.
Robinson dates the pursuit of urban exploration to the 1960s and ’70s when groups of people began organizing trips to sewer tunnels.
“I think that was the first initial step that kind of sparked things off,” Robinson said. “It’s just now catching on with a lot of people.”
A sampling of various urban exploration Web sites, and these people are BIG on Web sites, only serves to cloud the issue; most deal almost exclusively with the history and exploits of individuals or specific groups, not urban exploration as a whole.
One site, maintained by the colorfully nicknamed “Panic,” dates the proliferation of Web pages to 1995, but that’s when he became interested.
Robinson’s personal history begins and remains in the South Side; he graduated sixth in his class from Marion-Franklin in 1998. He attended Denison University for a year, majoring in geology.
“I decided I didn’t want to make a career out of finding rocks,” Robinson said.
Rather than continue throwing money toward training in a career he didn’t care to pursue, Robinson quit college in order to figure out what to do with his life. He hasn’t quite decided yet, although urban exploration is certainly helping to fill up the time. Robinson’s involvement with the hobby dates back to the year 2000, when he got a digital camera.
“Now what can I do with it?” he wondered.
Take pictures, is the obvious answer. What kind of pictures was the real question. At about the same time, Robinson chanced upon some urban exploration Web sites and found his answer: “I thought, ‘That’s pretty neat.’”
Robinson initially started out by visiting abandoned cemeteries, but soon expanded his exploration to abandoned properties and even buildings.
“Columbus has a lot,” Robinson said. “We’ve found a lot just in central Ohio.”
Robinson’s own Web site, “https://www.ohioexploration.com” includes some of his trespasses, notably an extensive photographic visit to the old Seneca Hotel in downtown Columbus.
“Only in Columbus do we tear down the few classics we have to build more parking lots,” he opines in the commentary that accompanies the photos.
Once supposedly doomed to the wrecking ball, the East Broad Street building is now scheduled for renovation into apartments.
Robinson organized the Ohio Exploration Society as a way of meeting with like-minded folks as well as learning about other sites to visit. The group has between 15 to 20 members, among them Columbus resident Jay Maynard.
“We just wanted to start doing something that had to do with going out and finding old, like, historic places,” Maynard said. “Some people just neglect them in a lot of ways. We just believe in, basically, keeping everything the way it should be.”
“There’s always a new place to explore,” Robinson said.
“To us, they’re hidden all over the place and some people don’t know where they are,” Maynard added. “It’s like finding a piece of gold in the middle of dirt.”
Anyone interested in joining the Ohio Exploration Society is invited to visit the Web site and contact Robinson via the e-mail link. All that is requested of prospective new members is a suggestion of potential places to explore.
“It would be their little initiation,” Robinson said.
As for the most interesting place he has trampled through so far, Robinson quickly identifies an abandoned state prison in Junction City, outside of Lancaster. In part, he admitted, this is because the Robert Redford movie “Brubaker,” released in 1980, was shot there in 1978.
There might be another reason, however.
“My girlfriend, our first date was that Junction City tour,” Robinson said. “It wasn’t supposed to be a date, but that’s how it turned out.”
Copyright © 2002, ThisWeek Community Newspapers
A huge thanks to Kevin Parks for writing this fabulous article about the OES for ThisWeek Newspapers, and to Darrin Bryan for the photograph above
*** As a footnote to this article, the Seneca Hotel was not visited by the Ohio Exploration Society. It was visited and covered by our good friend Andy over at Forgotten Ohio, who we linked to from our main page. Visit his site by Clicking Here.