May 14th, 2011

The Arcane Abbey...

*To celebrate the complete dismissal of trespassing charges and fines against Christina and myself,
I have decided to make a post about our story, and re-edit my favorite old and new images from the location in which we were caught; an abandoned abbey...
Christina also filmed a new video of the place (all footage was taken the day we got busted).
Some of you may recognize several of the following images, though I changed them up a bit from last they were posted.
Anyway, onto the entry.

In this line of work (“line of work” meaning the documenting of abandoned places), you are constantly running on a blade's edge. Though our efforts
are ones of preservation and education, ideals which few can argue as unethical, the means which we must use to attain our end can often place
us (as a whole) in an awkward situation... especially from a legal standpoint. We will get to that in a bit, first a little historical groundwork is in order:

Father Michael Heinlein of the German Arch-abbey of St. Ottilien founded this abbey in the rural hills of New Jersey on March 15, 1924.
The monastery's original agriculture was developed to include a Christmas tree farm a few years after it's inception. The sale of Christmas trees
became quite a popular event during the holidays, and the new monastery located across the street still participates in this endeavor today.

The monastery grew rapidly during its early years, and on May 2, 1936, it was large enough to be promoted to the grade of 'conventual priory'.
A decade later, on June 9, 1947, it was again promoted, this time to the grade of 'abbey'. The abbey continued to operate well into the 1970s,
but as time went by its high-arched windows found themselves looking across the way to modern squared windows of the new monastery building
and retreat house. The newer structures began to take on more and more of the abbey's functions, and by the end of its life the ornate facade decorated
what was in fact little more than a storage shed. It still sits today, slowly weathering away through time and the elements.

Such an old and beautiful abbey as this hardly deserves the fate it's been handed, and if this is indeed it's final chapter,
then it is little less than obligation to ensure that it is properly documented. With that mindset we entered its ivy-covered stone walls...

However, no sooner than we entered said stone walls, did the faint scent of cigarette smoke waft through the still air. Either we had narrowly missed
someone who had just left, or we were not alone under the old slate roof. After some investigation, we tracked the odor to the end of a hall on the second
floor. A quick peek through a key-hole revealed that the smoker was no fellow adventurer, but rather a vagrant who had claimed the abbey as their new digs.
The window light cast the figure within as an ill-defined silhouette. The only definite feature about this individual was that they were very large.
It was unanimously decided to give the mysterious resident a wide berth.

What followed was roughly an hour or so of wandering and filming within the four floors of hallways and rooms contained within the abbey.
It was a relativity relaxed venture for the most part, until the calm was utterly shattered by one simple word. Now, there are few singular words in the English language
which contain such power as to ruin one's entire day. Some examples that come to mind are “dead”, “fired”, “cancer” and depending on the circumstances “pregnant”.
This was none of those. The single-syllable day-killer here, for us, was “cops!”.
No sooner than that word was uttered did we hear a commotion two floors below us, at the front doors. Using the noise downstairs to cover our own,
we made a quick retreat to the attic and the storage room found therein. Once there, we snaked our way through the dark, behind some shelves, and against the rear wall.

Time passes much differently in situations such as these. Minutes drag on, and one can lose any decent bearing on time. We sat for what felt like ages,
in the pitch black, listening through the floorboards as a crew of police officers took the smoking vagabond into custody. After that, things grew silent.
Unfortunately for us, being a storage room in an attic, we had no windows from which to survey our situation. Any movements we made echoed through the
wooden floors and walls, seemingly gaining in volume as they did. After some length of nervous silence, we decided upon taking our chances and move to the closest window,
which overlooked the front of the property. Our plan did not come to pass though, for as soon as we prepared ourselves to go forth, voices reentered the ground floor.
Some minutes later the voices seemed louder, which we assumed meant that they were moving upward through the floors,
likely doing a final sweep of the place. We felt fairly comfortable at this point, as we thought nobody would have much interest in an old, dark storage room.

A few minutes later a flashlight beam appeared in the hallway, it approached the storage room and looked in. Blinded by the beam we couldn't make out
the person holding it very well, but it didn't matter, as they quickly moved on having not noticed us tucked tightly away into our makeshift hidey-hole,
watching from just behind the shelving. At this point we felt more at ease, as they would probably finish up and leave the grounds shortly.
Sadly this was not the case, as additional footsteps began to ascend the staircase into the attic. The beam again approached our makeshift hideout,
and once again lit the room as it was aimed in through the open door. This time though, the person behind the lamp did not turn and leave.
Instead the beam fell upon an old 35mm projector, stored upon the upper shelving of the storage room. The investigating officer then grabbed one of his companions,
to show him all the “cool stuff” which was stored away in the room he just checked out. Sadly it didn't take long for them to also find us in amongst all the “cool stuff”.

At this point I feel the need to note that the officer who happened across must have had nerves made from some kind of steel. If I, myself, came across
three people hiding in the dark recesses of the attic of an abandoned abbey, I would have at least did a double-take, if not experienced a near-fatal heart attack.
This man simply said “Alright, I see you”, in a most calm and official-sounding voice. From there we got up, dusted ourselves off,
and were told to head downstairs and out the front door. On our way down through the abbey, we passed some dozen or so officers.
I asked one who was standing on the staircase how many of them there were, to which he replied, “A lot.”.

Outside the front doors we came face-to-face with the homeless person who frightened us earlier. Turns out “it” was a “she”. It also turns out that they
were indeed very large, but due primarily to her eight coats... which she was wearing all at once. She had her hands full between speaking with the police,
and making calls on her cellphone. How did she have a cell phone? Where was the bill sent? Will she have to forward it now that she's moving out?
These were all questions that were running through my mind, but they were quickly interrupted by an officer asking some questions of me.
After a brief explanation of the reasoning for our presence at the abbey, we were sent over to a rather bored looking officer standing by one of six police cruisers that were parked out in front.

When we got the the officer, he informed us that we were free to leave, however we may be receiving a summons in the mail.
Turns out the mayor had shown up as well, and was the one who called for all the police to escort the heavily-coated woman from the premisses.
I looked over and saw a well dressed woman pointing at the abbey, talking about turning it into “affordable housing” and making some cliché comments
along the lines of it being “great for the community”. I also couldn’t help but notice she was preaching incorrect information during here quick history
lesson about the abbey, which she was delivering to some quasi-important looking business men, who I am sure weren't really listening anyway.

The officer we were directed to then handed us back our identification, and as we made our way past him he pulled us aside saying;
“It's not like were weren’t busy, I have no idea why she needs us all here... I want to just let you guys go, but she may make a stir.”
there was more than a subtle twinge of exasperation in his voice.

Two days later a court summons appears in my mailbox. Apparently I was being charged with “Defiant Trespassing”. At court I was informed that it was
a criminal offense and carries with it not only a record, but a potentially large fine as well. “Not guilty” was my plea. A month passes as I wait for my
hearing with the prosecuting attorney. During that span of time many things go through my thoughts, mostly how grossly undeserved it is to be called
criminals when all we (again, as a whole) wish to do is preserve what it is that makes our communities so unique.
It's sad that people don't see this kind of thing as a public service. Risking personal injury for the sake of photos,
if that's not selfless dedication to a cause, then I'm not clear on what is...

My day to speak with the prosecuting attorney eventually comes, and to my utter surprise he actually “gets” what our motivation is.
He then proceeds to sign off on a slip to have all changes and fines against us dropped, and for the case to be dismissed.
This is, obviously, not before he gives the standard legal speech about watching for trespassing signs and whatnot...
though, I was mostly not paying attention due to my shock of not owing any fees.

So, to me this set speaks in two parts. The first, and most obvious; that the abbey is a beautiful place and it is a shame to see it becoming worn and weathered.
If it is not turned into housing, as the rather-clueless mayor woman was droning on about, it may become too damaged to warrant saving.
The second point is; that people, even those who you may not expect it from, do understand good intentions when they see them.

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