The Mall (St. Louis, MO)

DSCN1177

Eight hours, seven people, two buildings.

As it currently stands, my nose burns the power of a thousand candles, and my throat had been through hell and back from last Sunday evening to the night before posting this. There were many things to prevent the sickness I brought upon myself — remembering my gloves, wearing an extra jacket, not exploring — and yet, I’m not completely bitter that I had to miss the majority of my work week.

The Mall, as I’ll refer to from now on, was once the premiere shopping mall in the St. Louis area. In fact, when The Mall opened, it was St. Louis’ first shopping mall in the entire region, and stayed very popular around the community, even amidst other malls opening. Unfortunately, as time passed, it slowly began to knock The Mall to its knees, ultimately closing in 2013. Surprisingly, two stores (not anchor stores) were still in operation by its closing, which resulted in mall walkers to scout the area for exercise and relaxation.

For the sake of protecting identities, I met with a handful of people. I’ll call them John, James, Joe, Jimothy, Janet, and Jessica. For understandable reasons, a few of those who met decided it wasn’t the best decision to enter in such a massive building, and left before we began. Again, it’s understandable, and they most likely made the right decision.

And so, we entered.

IMG_3762

There was an entrance that led to some sort of former office space; empty cubicles all over the place. For obvious reasons, there was not a trace of heat in the building, which only made matters worse considering the weather outside was around 25 F as a high. It was only a few steps in when we noticed what I believe to be the most bizarre thing during an explore thus far: frozen-over carpet. And I don’t mean a couple of spots here and there, but I mean the vast majority of the carpet. There was no trace of where this could have come from, or why, and we were left perplexed. (We later stumbled across a closet with the light on, and noticed water pipes had completely busted, thus spilling a miniature flood around the ground floor.)

“These are fresh,” said one of the people. They had been here recently, and what we saw that day wasn’t there before. Weird, but a sight to see.

I need to note these office cubicles are essentially mazes.  I was playing the role of the quiet follower, in the sense that if someone told me not to step in one area, I wouldn’t. These floors were covered with motion detectors.

DSCN1169

Oh, did I forget to mention those little things? Yeah, they’re practically everywhere, and it makes the tension of just walking from one end of a hallway to the next a relatively monotonous task. You see, the only two things I had been worried about whilst exploring other places were other people, and well, scary people. Not motion detectors. Not alarms. Just people.

One of the people who had been here quite often described to me what these motion detectors look like, and sound like when tipped off. I took what was said with caution, and continued, weary.

Finally making our way up a flight of stairs, to the top and back, we entered our more-or-less ‘official’ entrance — a very large department store. Three floors, dim lights, an escalator glowing in the dim of said lights, and a restaurant.

Wait, a restaurant? That’s exactly what I said.

DSCN1134

On the third floor of this very large, very empty department store, was a restaurant. Just from the location itself, I am going to go out on a limb and say that this place did not last as long as the department store itself. Despite its beautiful stained glass reflecting onto the floor below, I could not escape the feeling as to how awkwardly placed this was. Maybe all that shopping caused a strong appetite?

By this point, it was snowing heavily (completely dry outside by the time we first entered the premises), only making temperatures considerably colder inside the building, but especially around the restaurant area. (Thanks, open windows!)

Cleared out department stores are quite boring, and there is just not too many things to look at. As I mentioned before, you essentially just have dimmed lighting and a very elegant escalator that goes into the dark abyss the longer you stare down at it. The third and second floor blend in blandly, with the same sights and the same emptiness around you. That, however, cannot be said for the first floor.

DSCN1197

The first floor was absolutely flooded with motion detectors, and for good reason. Busted out windows, busted out boards of plywood and rays of life outside showed off its very post-apocalyptic vibe. I can honestly say that out of all the other abandoned places I’ve been to yet, this absolutely looked like something from a movie. It was impressive, but scary.

Scary because the motion detectors, not because of the vibe. (The vibe was mind-blowing.)

DSCN1195

We scaled the back walls, moving right, then forward, as if the store was a cliff in the Grand Canyon. We honest to God had no other option if we didn’t want to get caught. Imagine playing Minesweeper, but with real people, and motion detectors, not mines, in a building where they are hidden on various pillars, blending in with the area around them. Mirrors are the absolute worst thing in this sense, and we continued forward and out to the mall itself, somehow maneuvering between the alarms, getting in scotch-free.

I lied.

We set all of them off.

The exact moment we set them off. Credit: Russ Roener.
The exact moment we set them off.
Credit: Russ Roener.

Not just the one motion detector on the pillar nearby, but the one right by the mall entrance, and the one by a closed-down food place, and the one down the hall, and the one past that, and past that. You get the point. We successfully set each motion detector off.

“Great job!” I told myself, smiling from the nervousness. There was a short, heated debate as to ending the adventure right there and going back, or continuing on, hiding from any security that may come, then going on after that. What do you think we did?

This. This is what we did.
This. This is what we did.

We ran down one hall, and I couldn’t help but notice that the floors here, too, were layered in ice, though much less prominent than what we had seen previously. Somehow, it was even colder here too, but the energy of the situation moved my body temperature to the smallest priority.

We were running from security. (Or so we thought.)

The movie theater was a viable hiding spot, one person suggested. There were complaints to continue on after we set off yet another alarm, but we did not have much of a choice at this point. We hurriedly rushed up the walkway to the movie theater, and I sat in awe staring at this totally empty movie theater, dim lights still on, as we rushed up to the projectionists room to wait it out.

DSCN1201

And so began the most frightening forty minutes I had ever experienced in my time exploring abandoned buildings. No more than two minutes of sitting in this dark, elongated hallway, our voices were disrupted from noises on the ground floor of the mall. What initially sounded like footsteps morphed into high-pitched tones (only word I can think of), and later into either something moving desks or opening doors. In other words, it was a jumbled mess, and we weren’t completely convinced what we were hearing was security.

Why, you ask?

  • One set of loud noises would start and end on the left end of the hallway, from below, and quickly end. There would be a momentary silence, then the same set of loud noise(s) would start on the right end of the hallway, from below, and quickly end. Another momentary silence, and the process would repeat itself.
  • Not once did these sounds ever sound like they went any farther than that direct vicinity. From the little I know about security, they would surely scout more than just one very small area, right? That’s what we all sort of assumed, but of course, we had to play it safe.
  • There was never any sort of vocal proof people were below. Obviously, I’m not saying it was a ghost or even anything related to the paranormal, but what gives with the bizarre high-pitched tone? I was always under the impression that we were hearing was some sort of machine or something close to it, or maybe even an alarm that we managed to set off.

Regardless of who or what it was (one person suggested pigeons, which would explain everything from the high-pitched tones to the staying-in-one-area thing), we sat in complete darkness and complete silence, sheltered by the bitterly cold weather in this enclosed area. I never realized how bizarre my body reacts to such a claustrophobic, fear-induced state. Now, of course, I know.

Time passed, and surely but slowly, these noises seemed to decrease in volume and prominence, so we planned our escape. Leaving out the side door from which we didn’t enter, we took the flight of stairs down to one of the rooms below, like each step could be our last. I had always been curious to see an abandoned movie theater stripped of its seats and its screen, but in reality, it is exactly as you would imagine: boring. Interesting, but boring.

Out the emergency exit we went, and into the parking garage we were at once more.

We got out free!
We got out free!

Despite the alarms and threat of being caught, somehow, this group of five people entered a beautiful, relatively-pristine abandoned shopping mall, viewed a whopping 10% of the entirety of the place, and escaped to tell the tale. Amidst my disappointment of leaving sooner than I think any of us expected, it was a genuinely fun, great time.

Pros

  • Getting to explore The Mall in its beautiful, decayed beauty.
  • 10% or 5%, we got to experience something only copper thieves or vandals get to see (only for different reasons).
  • The photographs. Oh God, the photographs. (I’ll be uploading the full gallery soon.)
  • Getting in and out near-flawlessly.
  • The sign sitting at the very top of this post. So weird, but hilarious.
  • Met a handful of genuinely great people.

Cons

  • Both my digital camera and my GoPro camera decided to play a game of, “Let’s screw with Joel and die even though we’re fully charged.” They won.
  • Getting stuck in the projectionists room, shivering my body off.
  • Whatever the noise downstairs was. Whether it be people or pigeons, we were spooked just enough to get out of there when given the chance.
  • Did I mention my camera(s)?
Advertisements