Dan Bell explores an abandoned house, site of a tragic 1983 crime in Randallstown, Maryland, USA, when Craig Johnson decapitated his baby son, possibly while under the influence of drugs. (Video published 8 May 2015.) Video Source: Youtube.
For today, see some videos from American urban explorer Dan Bell, who visits abandoned properties and films them with camerawork and subtle editing reminiscent of horror movies. He is not a ghost hunter or paranormal believer; his interest merges the artistic with the historic to create unnerving video experiences on his Youtube channels (here and here). Beyond urban exploration, he could be an aspiring feature film director with an uncanny knack for locating disturbing places.
Above, a house outside Baltimore, site of a 1983 Christmas Day beheading of a child by a father. Some Youtubers dismiss Dan Bell's work as sensationalist; some like his added effects, including music from Stanley Kubrick's The Shining (1980). All commenters debated whether the evil of the 1983 crime remained in the building; part of the Youtube experience involves their collaborative reactions:
- "Here's what I found and Researched on the man named Steven Craig Johnson the Drug addict. A Baltimore-area man, who police say thought his son was Jesus Christ and had to die for the sins of the world, was denied bail Monday after being charged with first-degree murder in the decapitation of his 14-month-old boy.Baltimore County police said Stephen Johnson, 28, was charged with first-degree murder and held at police headquarters in Towson."
- "Creepy music and a house slowly falling into ruin does NOT make a house evil. Sheesh. The PCP caused the man to hallucinate that his son was Jesus, and for whatever his drug-addled mind thought, the son wound up dead at the hand's of his own father. That was HUMAN EVIL ... not some house. PCP is evil!"
- "You miss the point here. Dan Bells videos are his art and he obviously likes to bring horror movie elements to his videos. Its his point of view and a genre he has chosen. Its totally irrelevant weather the house truly is evil or not."
- "Stories like this destroy the real estate market. Not Dan's fault. I'm glad that history leaks. I rent-to-own an apartment and when I had tile installed the tile company told me the place is contaminated. I got out of the contract. Two people were murdered in the bedroom and the carpet foam had blood in it. Now I know the patched up holes weren't picture holes. They were bullet holes."
- "Both my parents died in our family home. They were in their 90's, on hospice and died peacefully. We did not have to declare it, nor did it ever occur to us that we should. The people who bought the house after a company bought the house seemed to get upset when I went over there and took them a framed artist's drawing of the house that I had had done for Daddy for Father's Day one year. I'm not sure how it came up in the conversation but I gave the man and his daughter a little history of the house. It was built by my grandfather for my grandmother, then she died and my parents bought it from him and they lived in it for almost their entire 71 year marriage. The man seemed shaken up that my parents died IN the house, so I wish I hadn't told him, but it's not like there was a murder. However, not long after that, the house disappeared. I asked the neighbors and they said a crane woke them up one morning and by noon, the house was gone. There doesn't even look like a house was ever even there. Very sad. I would have loved to have lived there, but I couldn't afford to buy out my sister's half."
- "Another problem with this type of places is that when something like that happened in there (murder, witchcraft, playing with ouija), they're usually haunted, I had to move out of a house because of that shit."
- "I wouldn't say its so much evil I would call it a complete wreck but the one odd thing that stood out to me if anyone else caught it. This house is in complete ruins with what looks like a brand new energy star hot water heater in the basement and the paint is still glossy while everything else is severely weathered. I don't think the house is as evil as the water heater."
- "All those flies are a classic sign that the house is demon possessed. It's very dark and oppressive atmosphere. It's damp negative lowly energy. And it's perfectly clear that something is very very wrong. It takes a brave person to go into a place such as this, because it's facing our inner fears. A film or documentary would be interesting. Did any one hear voices on this footage? or were they part of the musical background? Thanks for sharing."
Occupant's keepsake, occult prop, or message from a previous visitor? The curious note next to remnants of a woman's dress, found in the Johnson closet, reads: "About luck thats good for us. I don’t know what made thy house evil, I only know that thee begs thy help of whatever within here can help with. Undo." Image Source: Dan Bell via BlumHouse.
Real Life Shining: The Haunted Lowe Hotel Director's Commentary (11 May 2016). Video Source: Youtube.
Not all the sites Dan Bell visits are abandoned. These videos show his 3 a.m. tour through the reputedly haunted, Shining-like Lowe Hotel in Point Pleasant, West Virginia, with fellow urban explorer and film-maker Will Krupinsky, during their investigation of the Mothman urban legend in the area. The cryptid monster, a harbinger of doom, haunts an abandoned World War II TNT factory in what is now a nature preserve. The most frightening thing in their night walk to the factory was not the Mothman, but the echo inside abandoned munitions domes in the forest (see here and here). The Mothman was made famous by a 1975 book and a 2002 film.
Real Life Shining: 3am HAUNTED Lowe Hotel Tour: Point Pleasant, WV (6 May 2016). Video Source: Youtube.
Did Bell bring the Kubrick vibe with him? Or was it there already? He elaborated on his film-making aims in an interview with the Baltimore Sun on 3 April 2016. A late Gen Xer, he wanted a film career, and diverted onto social media to take an innovative path into the main industry. The results are fascinating, ground-breaking, and novel, a new type of film-making. And when these places do get to be too much (as here), Bell's fans love it even more."I swear around 20:43 when Will said 'it's a completely different temperature than outside' I heard 'no it's not' or something reply, didn't sound like the other wind noise." [And another:] "She says 'No its not' as a response to him talking about the temperature, it was for sure a female so creepy."
SCARY HORROR! Blood Soaked Room in Abandoned Building at Night! Ritual? (20 November 2015). Video Source: Youtube.
TRAPPED AND TERRIFIED: SCARY Nighttime Encounter in ABANDONED 1920’s Apartment Building (11 December 2015). Video Source: Youtube.
In the pair of videos above, Bell went alone on separate nights to explore an abandoned 1920s' apartment building in gang-ridden Baltimore, Maryland. The city is famous for violent crime: you can see Baltimore crime maps here, here and here. In the first video, it seemed that the building was a site of murder or occult rituals. Bell explained why he returned:
Bell's viewers were not sure if he had staged the effects or if what he found was real. Perhaps he was blending reality-Youtubing with urbex, horror, and gang violence. Maybe the whole thing was straight urban exploration, pig remains, gang members, drug deals, and all. Bell's apartment videos racked up 4,000 to 5,000 comments each, as Youtubers tried to figure out what was going on:"Over the past couple of weeks, I could not stop thinking about this location and how creepy it was so I decided to return and shoot the other sections of the property that I didn’t get to in the first video. On this unfortunate evening, I learned a couple of things that I wish I knew beforehand. First, I figured out why someone went through the trouble of planting the animal parts and drawing the summoning symbols that I found during my first visit. It’s all a ruse to scare people off....and it works like a charm. Second, I now know the nefarious purpose this building is being used for and the reason why I won’t ever step foot in it again. You’ll see everything come together in this video. During my successful escape at the end, I literally broke down physically and emotionally. Who knows what would of happened had things gone the other way? Thanks for watching."
Was Bell - a Baltimore native - really brave (or stupid) enough to go into Baltimore's worst areas, alone in the middle of the night, on foot, with a spotlight on himself? Compare Bell's adventures to Detroit native, Shea Woods, who entered the worst part of Detroit for a 2013 Youtube video carrying a gun, accompanied by a van and driver, and left at what Woods called the "Witching Hour," which looked to be around 4 p.m.
- "Are you crazy? Born and raised in Baltimore. You don't go into that neighborhood in the day time more/less night. The gangs would love to catch a pretty little white boy like you in a place where you could have screamed for days and no one would help you. The cops don't even go in there and if they have to it's in large groups. Had you been found you would have been tortured, maybe raped and eventually killed. They may have tortured and raped you for days. Members of some gangs have been known to practice human sacrifice. People disappear everyday in Baltimore. This was just stupidity on your part. You also could have fallen through the floor and died. In many of those places the basements have 15 feet of water in them. Baltimore basements are know for flooding because you're at sea level. Without pumps running to pump out the basements they easily fill with water, and it just accumulates. Please Dan don't go to these places. If you must, get a gun permit and Do Not Go Alone. That's the number one rule in abandoned exploration, any exploration for that matter. I'm glad you survived, you may never be that lucky again. Please know where you are exploring. Had you asked anyone in Baltimore, black or white they would have told you the same thing. Stay away from there, really almost anywhere in downtown Baltimore. All the gang violence, drug violence, constant gunshots day and night. You are in one of America's most violent cities. Please use common sense. Thank you for sharing this and your experience with us. Love you."
- "As someone who ACTUALLY grew up in the hood, I can say that they'd probably just take his equipment and wallet and depending on who it was and what kind of day they're having either shot his ass, or let him run."
- "From my past experiences, I have always tried to avoid confrontation even if the person seems friendly. Most of the time I haven't had expensive camera equipment like most avid urban explorers like Dan. For all you know, you could get jacked and/or seriously hurt or killed. A lot of my experiences are chavvy yobs who come to smash up the place, homeless people and heroin addicts. Luckily I haven't had a bump into these, but been in the same building as one of each! I can see lots of people here have probably never been in that situation and do not realize how adrenaline pumping it can be. A lot of people are clearly not familiar with Dan's work and don't realize a lot of editing is added for atmospheric effects, to sort of spruce it up. That doesn't mean it's completely fake, it's just an ongoing inside joke and just simply effects for the fans. I highly doubt this is fake, to be honest with you, why would he PLANT those drugs and hire actors? Also most people would check a bag like that, curiosity, no? Why are people quickly to dismiss him on simply that..haha? I mean, I've gone into places and opened draws, boxes etc. I've found my fair share of needles, burnt spoons and baggies left about the place. That might be a stash, since most drug dealers keep their stash elsewhere. Watch the Wire and you'll see how they keep a good system going (i.e the person dealing doesn't actually have the drugs on him/her)."
Dan Bell, left, with producer Will Krupinsky at the abandoned Goetze's Meat Company building in East Baltimore. Image Source: Barbara Haddock Taylor/Baltimore Sun.
Bell followed up the 2015 apartment videos with his crowning achievement thus far: the 2016 night videos in the abandoned Albert F. Goetze meat factory on the east side of Baltimore (see the videos below, or here, here, and director's comments here; he and Krupinsky returned for a third, final night here). Already a legend among his Youtube fans, these additions upped the ante on Bell's new genre of social media-urbex-horror and boosted his Patreon campaign. On the Baltimore meat factory, he declared: "This is it. The scariest place I’ve ever been."
These videos showed the extreme, terrifying degradation of America's inner cities, the truth of what is happening in the worst parts of the post-industrial United States. Bell and Krupinsky opened a lot of eyes. What lies inside those boarded-up, faceless brick buildings one sees as one speeds past on elevated freeways? Most people never dare to find out. This work attracted an interview from the Baltimore Sun, whose reporters reflected on how the now-frightening Goetze meat plant once supported a thriving working class district. You will notice that the Sun reporters did not visit the site themselves for a follow-up. Goetze's company had great success until it went bankrupt in 1974; the surreal fear these parts of Baltimore now inspire shows how far the troubled city has fallen:
In the architecture of the buildings, you can still see what they once were. It is horribly sad. The ruination catalogues the decline and disappearance of American industry. Over the past fifty years, gangs and the drugs trade captured inner city working class immigrant and industrial areas."[Bell] went to the plant at Sinclair Lane and Belair Road to document the inside of the decaying structure that was once a symbol of Baltimore's blue-collar workforce. Now, it's more a symbol of the city's manufacturing decline and blight. ... The company, which once served the entire East Coast and as far west as Ohio, helped make Baltimore one of the top meat producers in the country in the early 1960s. The equipment that was used to make hot dogs, sausages and lunch meat was removed and sold long ago. Three years after it closed, seven firefighters were injured in a four-alarm blaze at the plant."
Goetze's meat factory at its height, when it employed some 1,000 people at 8422 Bellona Lane. Images Source: Baltimore Museum of Industry via Kilduffs.
The Baltimore popular Website hub, Kilduffs, discusses the city's heyday. The Baltimore Museum of Industry has an online gallery of photos (here and here) highlighting Baltimore's industrial past. Goetze's meat plant recalls iconic American history. The factory was established and worked by German American immigrants, who also founded successful beer breweries, and sugar and spice factories - and the origins of a famous baseball team. Babe Ruth hailed from this Baltimore community.
Babe Ruth, America's baseball legend. Image Source: HubPages.
The meat factory founder, Albert F. Goetze, was the son of Albert C. Goetze and Dora Goetze, respectively from Anholt and Bremen, Germany. According to German Marylanders, the parents started with a butcher shop at Chew (now Ashland Avenue) near Chester and lived at 1729 Chester Street. The factory, established in 1923 and constructed in Art Deco style, had the slogan: "Don’t Guess, Get Goetze’s." The bright 20th century world these German Americans built, remembered by local history buffs and historians in terms of prosperity, beer, sausages, soda pop, and baseball, is now the stuff of 21st century social media urbex horror.
Nightmare Fuel: Abandoned Baltimore Meat Factory at Night (6 February 2016). Video Source: Youtube.
NIGHTMARE FUEL: RETURN TO THE ABANDONED MEAT FACTORY (19 February 2016). Video Source: Youtube.
Dan Bell CUTTING/ROOM/FLOOR Ep. #18: NIGHTMARE FUEL MEAT FACTORY Director's Commentary (9 February 2016). Video Source: Youtube.
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