I a 100-year-old abandoned Belgian chateau, Ransom Riggs is putting together a puzzle. In his mind, he’s trying to put together the pieces of people’s lives that were left behind. Abandoned decades ago, the house is dark and dusty, but not empty. In it, clues to the past lay scattered: old clothes, hand written notes, various tools. Every item is a puzzle piece that shows a picture of the past – who lived here? What were they like? Where did they go?
Technically, Riggs is trespassing. Breaking the law is just part of the excitement that comes along with “urban exploration,” a type of underground hobby where people explore in and probe around abandoned structures. The hobby comes with risks. Other than being arrested for breaking and entering or trespassing, the largest dangers are exposure to asbestos, hazardous dried bird feces, and rusty nails. Explorers will sometimes wear protective respirators to alleviate health risks.
Why do it? Where’s the appeal in putting life and limb at risk to explore abandoned homes or factories? Most explorers liken the experience to having a childlike curiosity they never grew out of, or having a strong love for history and architecture.
Ransom Riggs is here for a different reason. He wanted to make sure the setting for his novel was true-to-life, so he travelled to Europe to find the kinds of houses that were described in the pages of his book. When he stepped into these abandoned homes, he discovered something he never expected to see. Some of these homes, empty for decades, were completely undisturbed. If not for the thick dust coating everything, it’d be as if they were still lived in. Trinkets from a time long past littered the insides.
Riggs teamed up with urban explorer/photographer Martino Zegwaard to photograph and document the inside of these homes. Rigg’s intention is to show that these homes, long abandoned, aren’t just rotting wastes of space.
“These houses aren’t graves,” Riggs said. “They’re secret histories, waiting to be read.”