Author Ransom Riggs puts together a puzzle in a dusty, deserted Belgian chateau.
He’s attempting to bring the left-behind parts of people’s lives together in his mind. The chateau is dark and dusty, abandoned decades ago, but not empty. There were scattered clues to the past: ancient clothes, handwritten notes, different instruments. Each item is a piece of the puzzle showing an image of the past. Who’s been living here? How were they? Where were they going?
Riggs is trespassing technically. Breaking the law is just part of the excitement that comes with “urban exploration,” a kind of underground hobby where individuals are exploring deserted buildings, according to the BBC. There are dangers to the hobby. Explorers are at danger of exposure to asbestos, dangerous dried bird feces, and rusty nails in addition to being detained for breaking and entering or trespassing. To mitigate health hazards, they sometimes carry protective respirators.
Why are they doing this? What is the attraction for exploring deserted homes and factories to put life and limb at risk? Most explorers compare the experience with a childlike curiosity from which they never grew out of. Others love history and architecture strongly.
Ransom Riggs is exploring the Belgian chateau for a different reason. In a video Riggs uploaded to YouTube in June 2011, he explains that he wanted to make sure the setting for his novel — “Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children” — was true to life. His journey for authenticity led him to Europe to find the kinds of houses that are described in the pages of his book.
“There’s a certain indefinable look that these old houses in Europe have,” Riggs wrote on Mental Floss, “that’s difficult to find in America.”
He found something he never expected to see when he entered these deserted homes. Some of the houses were totally undisturbed, vacant for centuries. It was as if the families were still living there, if not for the dense dust covering everything. Long old trinkets littered the inside.
Riggs and urban explorer and photographer Martino Zegwaard joined forces to photograph and document these homes ‘ insides. Riggs investigates the insides of several deserted European homes in his video, confiding that his purpose is to demonstrate that these long-abandoned homes are not just rotting space wastes.
“These houses aren’t graves,” Riggs says. “They’re secret histories, waiting to be read.”
“Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children” reached No. 1 on The New York Times’ Best Sellers List.