It took me a long time to decide to do this section. I always hesitated because it seems like every website like mine has a little advice section telling you to wear thick-soled shoes and bring a mag-light. But I do get e-mails asking for tips about going into abandoned buildings, so I thought I'd make any information I have more accessible by posting it here. I don't want this to stop anyone from writing to me, but maybe it can still be helpful.

This has also turned into the most controversial portion of the site, mainly because when I first wrote it I was 20 or so and very flippant about things like, "If you want to vandalize a place, just try not to get spraypaint all over your index finger." Although I made it clear that I didn't approve of that, I guess it was a jokey way of trying not to seem too serious about the whole thing. I've since revised it and taken out all of the twelve-year-old jokes. And it's your loss, because they were hilarious.

Have I ever been caught?
Personally, no. But I'm very cautious. I actually get made fun of for being too cautious.
What happens if you get caught?
I don't know from personal experience, but I've heard stories. Cops will give you a worst-case scenario, which involves big fines and maybe jail time, but that only happens if the cop who catches you is in a bad mood, the judge is a law-and-order type, and the person who owns the property is a dick. I think that if you're not vandalizing, and you're just checking the place out, a cop would probably be inclined to just tell you to get lost. If he does, respect it; going back would just be a slap in the face to a police officer who did you a favor.

My friend Rookie has some friends who got caught at the old Ohio Penitentiary. He wasn't there; they had all explored the place and his friends returned to rappel from the water tower. They were whooping and yelling to each other and somebody called the police, who showed up and issued tickets and court summons to all but one of them (he escaped by way of the Pen's underground tunnels). From what Rookie said, his friends had to appear before a judge, but aside from that inconvenience, what happened to them was no worse than a speeding ticket. They had to pay a fine. Bear in mind that they were really flaunting the whole trespassing thing, and that this is not always the case. It can go a lot worse.

As I said, don't vandalize, and don't make a lot of noise. Don't act like an idiot, if you can help it.

Other advice?

Scouting -- It's not absolutely necessary, but a daytime reconnaissance trip can be very helpful. You don't even have to get out of the car. Look around to see what kinds of buildings are nearby. Houses where people will be all night, or businesses which empty after 5PM? Also, look for a way in. There's no better way to get caught than to be running around outside.

Parking -- Park somewhere safe, of course, where you won't be ticketed or towed, but also remember not to park anywhere where it'll be glaringly obvious that the people who belong to your car are inside the abandoned building. This is a major tip-off. Even if they don't catch everyone, they might tow you, and they'll certainly be able to trace the car's owner through the plates. So park on a street or in an all-night parking lot.

Flashlights -- Any kind of flashlight will do, but most people do like the Mag-Light. They feel good in your hand. Hoss has a 2 million candlepower boat light which we use sometimes to illuminate an entire room; you can feel the heat from fifty feet away. The most important thing to remember about flashlights in an abandoned building is to use them as little as possible. The windows of an abandoned building will almost never be boarded above the second floor or so, since most people can't throw a rock any higher. If you're high up in an abandoned building at night, any light you cast is very visible. Never, ever shine your flashlights at the windows. Doing this turns the place into a lighthouse. Local cops know what buildings are unoccupied, and if they see lights inside they'll come and get you.

Semi-Occupied Buildings -- Some buildings have an abandoned section. The first floor might be occupied by a flower shop, but the upstairs apartment hasn't had residents since 1965. Or an old high school's gymnasium might be rented out for events while the rest of it crumbles away. Places like this are a gray area. If you explore them, you're risking bigger penalties, since it can be asserted that you were trying to break into the occupied section. That's Breaking and Entering, a mid-level felony. The prisons are full of people who were breaking and entering. Still, it can be fun. Just be ultra-cautious. I only explore places like this with people I know can handle themselves, like my friends Hoss and Rookie. During my second trip to Americana Amusement Park, Hoss and I realized that there was a guard in the little hut up front. When he did his rounds, spotlighting the nooks and crannies of the park with a searchlight, my instinct was to run, but Hoss made me duck down behind the go-cart racecars and the guard just drove right by. Never panic.

Dangerous Buildings -- The only building I've been in which was really dangerous was the Rainsboro Theater. The floor on the first level was full of holes, and when I leaned against a wall on the second floor it actually fell over and bricks fell down around my head. Rookie told me about the ballroom at Idora Park, where he says you can't walk to the middle of the room without falling through the floor. Not too many buildings like this exist, but I'd advise you to walk slowly and make sure the floors are sturdy. Most people do this on instinct anyway.

Vandalism -- Some people break into abandoned buildings to spraypaint stuff on the walls. I don't choose to do this, but if you're doing it, I'd advise you to throw your cans down at any sign of trouble. And try not to get paint all over your index finger. If you want to break windows and stuff, remember that sound carries really far in the still of the night. And grow up at some point.

The following advice was sent in by MasterSintow, a website reader; good stuff, all of it, though a little bit more advanced than I am:

"When I was younger I had a crew of friends I would explore abandoned places with, and we found that a flashlight with a red filter on it was perfect for illumination w/out 'glowing' a room. I once had a friend that got busted because the cops compared his boots with the tracks found in the mud around the building (long story), so after that we all switched to cheap shoes w/nondescript soles. We started wearing deer hide gloves as well, not that fingerprints were an issue, but they help a lot when we had to make a quick exit w/the leaping of fences, climbing through broken windows (we never did this ourselves, we always tried very hard to leave no trace) and such. Another thing we took to doing was wearing really baggy, dark clothes and over-large coats, so that if the cops hit us with spot lights we could collapse to the ground and look like a pile of clothes and debris. This trick got me past a patrol cruiser that spotlighted me from no more than 30 feet away."

I don't know if this has been helpful, but I hope so. Make up your own rules as you go along. And be sure to e-mail me if you have anything to add.