In August of 2005, Hurricane Katrina devastated the city of New Orleans, Louisiana. While the hurricane’s winds and heavy rain did substantial damage to the city, the real catastrophe stemmed from the massive failure of the city’s levee system, which left 80% of New Orleans flooded.
The Six Flags amusement park on the city’s east side sustained serious damage. The 140 acre compound sat under four to seven feet of salt water for over a month, corroding the rides to the point of being unsalvageable and effectively destroying the entire park.
And so, Six Flags New Orleans has sat abandoned for more than five years now. Having a penchant for all things destroyed and decaying, I badly wanted to go there to explore and shoot some photos. Certainly many other photographers had been there before me, but I was thinking of shooting something a little different. I rounded up three of the most intrepid and adventurous people I know – Aaron Ross, Brian Kachinsky, and Jeff Klugiewicz – to break into the dilapidated amusement park and see what we could find to ride.
We really had no idea what we expected to find out there. The Internet is full of photographs and articles about the place, and people’s experiences seem to vary greatly. Some explorers got in and out just fine, while others were handcuffed by police and had their photographs destroyed. Good luck us. . . .
...MOSTLY, WE WERE LOOKING FOR A WAY IN, AND PERHAPS MORE IMPORTANTLY,
FOR ANY SIGNS OF LIFE INSIDE...
The night before we made the 500 mile drive to New Orleans, the situation was looking pretty grim. Aaron had heard through the grapevine stories about people getting in serious trouble for trespassing out there. I did a little more research, and I discovered that back in February the city of New Orleans had allocated $240,000 to hire a private security firm to guard the park. This was not good news. Nonetheless, we were committed to making this happen, and we weren’t about to back down now.
We first arrived at the park at around 3:00 in the afternoon on a Tuesday. The place was easy to spot – it’s enormous and you really can’t miss it while driving down the interstate. We exited and began to assess the situation, first by making a few laps in the van around the perimeter. Mostly, we were looking for a way in, and perhaps more importantly, for any signs of life inside.
A safe place to park the van was also a primary concern. East New Orleans was hit hard by Katrina, and it definitely hasn’t recovered as fully as other parts of the city. It did not strike us as an especially safe place to be hanging out or leaving one’s vehicle unattended.
After a few anxious laps, we had seen no evidence of anyone inside the compound, and we had also found nowhere to park the van. A residential neighbourhood adjacent to the amusement park appeared to be about 75% abandoned and seemed like a bad choice. Finally we discovered a little service road that runs next to the highway that led us directly to a back entrance.
. . .Now I’m not gonna lie – I was nervous. No w that we were actually entering this bizarre, deserted space, it became hard not to think about all the bad things that could happen...
There was a relatively thick line of trees between the service road and the highway that provided some cover, but it still wouldn’t have been hard to spot our vehicle, which was most definitely not supposed to be there. It wasn’t a perfect solution, but it was probably the best we were going to do.
We parked, got out, and climbed a hill to survey the park from across a huge lake. It felt like we were soldiers preparing to storm an enemy base or something. Still seeing no signs of anyone inside the perimeter, we cautiously headed toward the entrance.
Now I’m not gonna lie – I was nervous. Now that we were actually entering this bizarre, deserted space, it became hard not to think about all the bad things that could happen. Of course security, police, jail, and whatnot was a factor, but I think what was even more frightening was the possibility of who else we might find in there. Any squatters, looters, thugs, or criminals we might encounter would have free rein to do whatever they wanted to us. Once inside the compound, you are completely isolated from the rest of the world. There are no witnesses. You can’t help but realise that no one goes here. Maybe there’s a reason.
. . .Of course security, police, jail, and whatnot was a factor, but I think what was even more frightening was the possibility of who else we might find in there...
. . .The place was pretty incredible, though. In its five years of decay, it has been heavily vandalised – graffiti and broken glass are everywhere, and looters have thoroughly stripped any trace of copper wiring...
Topics of discussion on the way to the entrance included where to meet back up if we had to scatter and which of my camera bags was most valuable in case we had to run and could only grab one. Maybe we were being dramatic, but having no idea what to expect, scenarios such as these seemed entirely plausible.
The park is surrounded by a tall chain-link fence with barbed wire on top and is quite clearly marked with no trespassing signs. Fortunately next to the rear entrance there was a giant hole in the fence. Entering would not be a problem.
Once inside, we mostly just explored for the first afternoon. It gets dark by 5:00 in New Orleans in December, so we didn’t have much time. The place was pretty incredible, though. In its five years of decay, it has been heavily vandalized – graffiti and broken glass are everywhere, and looters have thoroughly stripped any trace of copper wiring. Evidence of water damage abounds, grass and weeds are overgrown everywhere, and whole buildings are falling down. It really is in a shambles. Being there gave me a real feeling of what the world might be like post-apocalypse. There we were, in this amusement park with all of its rides and games and happy family fun, and it has all just been left to rot. No one tore it down, no one cleaned it up; they just left. It was an eerie feeling to say the least. We explored and shot photos until it was pitch-black dark, at which point we stumbled back out to the van.
The next day, we brought a sledgehammer. I’d say it was one of the best $17 we’ve ever spent. One of the perks of being completely isolated from the outside world is that you, too, can do whatever the hell you want. If there was something in the way of riding a spot, we’d simply sledgehammer it out of the way. It really did spoil us to a certain extent; I can’t tell you how many times since I’ve seen an almost perfect spot with something in the way and longed for the freedom to just knock the obstacle down. Unfortunately in the real world flagrant, public vandalism has all sorts of unpleasant consequences.
. . .Being there gave me a real feeling of what the world might be like post-apocalypse. There we were, in this amusement park with all of its rides and games and happy family fun, and it has all just been left to rot. . .
In any case, I’m not sure where this supposed private security force was, but I’d say the city isn’t getting their $240,000 worth. We explored and rode all day long and well into the night with no problems at all. There weren’t a lot of legit “spots,” but fortunately Aaron, Brian, and Jeff are incredibly talented and versatile riders, so they were able to make magic happen anyway. I had them climbing on rollercoasters, scaling roofs, riding through broken glass, and generally risking their lives so I could shoot photos of them riding their bikes in an abandoned amusement park, and they never complained about it once.
Much to our surprise, we actually encountered several other people on our second day. There were a couple of really cool skateboarders from Boston, a solo girl wandering the park by herself (and staying far away from us), a couple of other photographers, a college kid with a video camera, some men in black running through a field, and a woman who called herself a “ghost hunter” (and her entourage). She asked Aaron what the scariest area of the park was, and he had no idea what to tell her. He was even more confused when she asked which part felt most “concentrated.” Right.
This trip really was an overwhelming success. In fact, I don’t think it could have gone much better. We were able to get in and out with no problems from the law, security, or unfriendly locals; I got to shoot photos in an absolutely amazing location, nobody got hurt, and we all had one hell of an adventure. Much thanks to Aaron, Brian, and Jeff for being so enthusiastic and accommodating – you guys rule.
...I had them climbing on rollercoasters, scaling roofs, riding through broken glass, and generally risking their lives so I could shoo t photos of them riding their bikes in an abandoned amusement park, and they never complained about it once...