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Journal: First Trip to the BCT

Buffalo Central Terminal's main tower Buffalo Central Terminal (27 February 1999): I went to check out the abandoned Buffalo (New York) Central Terminal with the documentary people and Lefty and L.B. of Jinx magazine.
       I arrived at about 11a.m., and talked with Lefty and L.B. out front just briefly before we all headed inside the gigantic, decaying monolith of a building. The front door was wide open, because the film crew had obtained permission of a sort to film inside the building, but it would have been a very simple matter to enter the building through an alternate entrance. The building is absolutely gigantic and there are hundreds of potential entrances, so I doubt it will ever be sealed off totally.
       The crew had secured two cameras and two audio recorders for the day, so one camera followed the Jinx guys on their mission to conquer the rooftops (heights are their main thing), while another camera followed me in my search for tunnels and other interesting sights.

Freight train building         I led my half of the crew back outside and into a long, low building that, it seemed to me, had served freight trains rather than passenger trains. I explored several rooms, including unlit storage rooms and extremely vandalized washrooms, before finding a tall metal ladder leading up. I clambered up into a very tempting dark hallway where much of the roof had collapsed onto the floor, and then had to wait impatiently for the film crew to catch up. We then walked around the top of the building on a catwalk, which was fun, though I sensed that the people lugging the heavy equipment up and down the ladders were enjoying all the multi-level action less than I was.
       After descending to ground level, I found a stairwell leading underground. At the bottom of the stairs, the top half a wooden door was jutting out of the floor at an odd angle. As I was about to trust my weight to this 'floor', someone called out "it’s ice!" They were right — the room at the bottom of the stairs was flooded with about eight feet of frozen water. I tentatively tested the ice with my foot and, finding it quite solid, crawled out onto the ice and through the top of a doorway leading into the room beyond. I crawled through a series of these rooms, right at the roof level, but they didn't seem connected to tunnels and the crew wasn't really interested in trusting the ice, so we gave up on that and headed up to the roof.

Stairs down Inside the window

On the roof of the freight building, we looked up and saw Lefty, L.B. and the other half of the crew standing atop the station’s tallest tower, where they were draping a flag containing the Jinx logo over the side of the building. We waved at them and filmed them from below. I spotted a hole in the cement wall separating the roof of our building from the fourth storey of their building, so we all climbed through into the main part of the station. We were in a dark room filled with burned record books and very narrow staircases leading up and down, and a door leading off somewhere else. We decided to head down first. At the bottom of those stairs, we found more doors, more rooms, more stairs!  I wanted to go in every direction at once, but alas, I had to pick. I was generally kind to the crew in picking the path of least resistance. We climbed down in between the inner and outer panes of the big arched windows that overlook the station’s great hall. These were quite shattered, and I grabbed a large, thick hunk of glass as a souvenir.
Clock face        We crossed down to the second storey and did more general tourism. Among the more memorable sights we took in were a flooded, frozen library filled with record books and ancient frozen typewriters, an open but empty safe, some open elevator shafts and several different flights of stairs leading up. We gradually made our way up the main tower, stopping every couple of floors to investigate the abandoned offices on a particular level. Some were covered in charred record books, while others were surprisingly clean. Record books were in abundance throughout the building; one stairwell we took was coated with several feet of old record books that we had to climb on top of. We found the elevators hanging suspended in the shaft on the 9th floor; then five or six floors higher we stumbled upon the huge clocks that once broadcasted the time to all of suburban Buffalo. Most of the gears were gone but the glass-and-iron clock faces were still more or less intact.
       I failed to note on what storey, but eventually we left behind the office floors and started hitting the old mechanical rooms near the top of the building, which were incredibly cool. These were lit with afternoon sunlight pouring in through windows and holes in the walls, and covered with a thick layer of dust, so it felt like we were climbing around inside an Egyptian pyramid. There were ladders and nooks everywhere. We took a relatively straight path up to the roof, where we had an incredible view of the decaying metropolis of Buffalo in all its glory from 20 storeys up.
Fleur-de-penis        After a little more exploring of the upper levels, we had to head back down to meet with the other crew. We were setting up for an interview in the great hall when a couple in their 50s walked in and said hello. The producer mentioned that we were filming a documentary, and the couple offered to leave, but we encouraged them to stay and have a look around. They explained that they were just back visiting for the memories. The terminal had been where the man had shipped off to the Korean War, and it was even more significant to the woman, whose first husband had been killed in an accident while working there as a mechanic decades ago. The man talked about how they'd just been to Toronto and it seemed so big and prosperous that it made them sad for Buffalo, which had once seemed to be a city poised for greatness. They reminisced at length about how the great hall had once been continuously filled with thousands of people, and dozens of busy shops and restaurants. The man explained that it had always been kept immaculate: never a ticket or even a cigarette ash on the floor. The woman interjected that they had always dressed up in their Sunday best before coming to the train station. The man told us that all the floors had been made out of polished marble. We scraped off a few centimeters of dirt with our shoes and showed him that it still was, and I told him that it was still a beautiful building. They shook our hands, wandered around a bit more and then left.
       Once the film crew had pretty much run out of film for the day, they got ready to pack everything up. An eager member of the crew named Ian and I asked if we could be excused to check out some stairs we'd found earlier leading down from the kitchen. These stairs took us down three levels (each of which we probably could've explored for an hour if we'd had time) to a series of cold, pitch-black steam tunnels deep under the station. We explored these tunnels as much as we could, but large sections were flooded and the ice didn't seem very thick. Too bad, because we could see more stairs ahead of us in one of the inaccessible areas.
       Going up a level, we continued our explorations of the station’s subbasements. There were dozens and dozens of tempting doors, hallways and staircases that we had to ignore because we didn't have enough time to investigate everything. We found an old storage room where there was straw all over the floor and a fridge in the corner; it looked like bums had once lived there. I found a large-sized pink t-shirt reading “Hard to Please Lady” hanging from some mechanical equipment and I couldn't help but take it, because I knew it would make a perfect addition to my wardrobe.
Underground reception hall        Shortly after this, we wandered outside, into a back alley behind the station, where we met up with two guys in their 20s who were taking pictures. They asked us about what the inside of the station was like, and told us they were taking pictures for a contest a Buffalo art gallery was having called “images of the Buffalo Central Terminal” or something. They’d neglected to bring flashlights, though, so they wouldn't have gotten far inside the building. After a bit of poking around inside the building on the other side of the alley, a police car cruised by us really slowly on the other side of a cement wall. The cops obviously wanted us to come over and explain ourselves, but we didn't feel like it, and they didn't feel like getting out of their car, so it was a stalemate. We invited the photographers to come with us back inside the building, and we showed them some of the more impressive sights we'd seen in the subbasements, like the corridor containing a car stripped bare, a big subterranean reception hall of some sort, and cement walls erected halfway up ornate staircases.
       Unfortunately, we ran out of time before long, and after being lost for a brief time, we made our way back up to the great hall to meet up with the rest of our group. Although it had been a long day and I was extremely cold and hungry (I’d brought drinks but not food), I was still frustrated to have to leave the magnificent station. We’d been there for about six hours, and I don't think we'd seen more than a third of what this tremendous place had to offer. I’ll definitely be heading back.

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